§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD DESBOROUGH
My Lords, at this very late hour I shall only occupy your Lordships' time and attention for a very few minutes on the Bill of which I now move the Second Reading. The object of this Bill is to provide a pension scheme for those whole-time firemen who are not at present covered by any pension scheme. There have been numerous schemes, some of which are in operation at the present time all over the country, but this Bill is the result of the deliberations of a Committee, and afterwards of a Royal Commission, which reported on the matter in 1923. This Bill practically is based on that Report. I do not think it is necessary for me to go in detail into its provisions, because the circumstances are such that I do not think your Lordships will be unwilling to give it a Second Reading It left another place 861 in its present form, practically as an agreed measure—that is to say, the promoters now have the support of the Government, and the Bill is an agreed measure with the local authorities. I am sure that your Lordships are willing to recognise the spirit of self-sacrifice of our firemen and also the dangers and risks to which they are subjected, and you will no doubt agree with another place that both they and the police should have adequate pensions as a reward for those sacrifices and for undertaking those risks.
The Bill in its present form applies to Scotland. There were the names of two Scottish members on the back of the Bill. During its progress through the House of Commons overtures were made to the representatives of local authorities so that they should not continue to have any grievance to which they felt themselves subjected. No opposition, however, was-offered to the Bill in another place on behalf of the Scottish authorities, and an Amendment excluding Scotland was not even moved. The author of the Bill, which is now a Government measure, offered to meet all the Scottish local authorities, but they did not happen to accept his invitation, and no further objection was taken to the Bill. I have had private information that on behalf of Scotland certain objections may be made, but, as I have indicated, they had in another place the very fullest opportunity of stating their case but did not do so. Therefore, I take this opportunity of moving the Bill as an agreed measure. If your Lordships should be willing to give it a Second Reading, and we can get it through the Committee stage in a moderate amount of time, the idea is that the Bill should come into operation in April of next year. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Desborough.)
LORD BANBUEY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, earlier this afternoon we listened to a speech from the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, in which he pointed out how great was the necessity for economy, and how enormous was the burden which was imposed at the present moment upon the taxpayer and ratepayer. Unless my memory deceives me, I think he said that the rates alone amounted to something like £150,000,000 862 a year and the total annual burden to something very like £1,000,000,000. I believe I am right in saying that my noble friend Lord Salisbury said that the chief idea of the Government was in some kind of way, and in the best way that they could, to reduce expenditure, and so lessen taxation and rates. This Bill is a very good illustration of what is going on.
I dare say it is a very good Bill, provided we had the money to do what it proposes to do. It proposes to compel local authorities to pay a certain rate of pension, based, as I understand, upon what is paid to the police, to firemen. Lord Desborough is a little wrong when he says that this is an agreed Bill, because I hold in my hand a memorial from the Convention of the Royal Burghs of Scotland in which they object to the Bill altogether, and wind up by saying that on the whole they do not think it should be passed; or, alternatively, if it is proceeded with, that it should not be made to apply to Scotland. It is evident that the Scottish people, at any rate, with their natural love of economy, are opposed to this Bill.
I want chiefly to show to your Lordships what actually is going on at the present time. It is nothing new. During the many years that I was n the House of Commons I always found everybody there was in favour of economy, except in their own particular constituency or in some particular thing in which they had an interest, and then nobody was in favour of economy. The same thing is going on to-day. We are continually having these little Bills brought before us. I do not suppose this particular Bill will impose a very great burden upon local authorities. It is the principle to which I object. Instead of seeing whether or not we can give increased pensions to various people, increased "doles," etc., we ought to say to everybody that we are going to reduce our expenditure, and that we certainly are not going to put anybody in a better position than he was in before at the expense of the State. This comes just after we have listened to a powerful speech by. the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, confirmed, as I understood, by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, with regard to national 863 economy. We are asked to compel local authorities, who already have powers, to give pensions, increased pensions, to firemen. Firemen have done very well up to this year, and why on earth should ratepayers be asked to spend further money in this direction?
And, by the way, this is a private Member's Bill, which has been taken up by the Government. I always objected, when I was in the House of Commons, to the Government giving facilities to private Members' Bills and then taking them up as their own. This is a private Member's Bill, probably because the tire-men in his constituency have said, "If you bring in a Bill to give us more money out of the public expenditure we shall probably vote for you next time." Probably that is the whole reason for the Bill. I know it is no use trying to stop the Bill if the Government are in favour of it, but I earnestly ask the noble Marquess the Leader of the House 'o endeavour to put a little backbone into the Government and prevent them bringing forward all these popular measures of social reform, which is but another phrase for Socialism, and try to relieve the unfortunate Income Tax and Super-Taxpayer, and the taxpayers generally, because, unless they do that, the noble Earl is absolutely correct in saying that we are on the road to bankruptcy.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I do not rise to oppose this Bill but simply to ask a question, and I do not desire an immediate reply unless the noble Lord is able to give it. But it would be interesting to many of us if he could tell us how much money this Bill is expected to cost. I am quite sure that the figure is somewhere in the Department, and if, on the Motion to go into Committee, it could be given to us we should be very grateful.
§ LORD DESBOROUGH
I think I could give the figure roughly now. This is not a Bill to increase pensions but to give pensions to those unfortunate whole-time firemen who have not pensions at the present time whilst their confrères have; and it is introduced as the consequence of a Committee and a Royal Commission. I understand that the number of these unfortunate whole-time firemen is not more than 700 or 800. They will be pensioned. The rateable deductions are 864 to be five per cent, and I am informed that the amount which local authorities will have to find will not be more than two per cent, over and above the rateable deduction of five per cent. The noble Earl, who is a mathematician, can possibly work out the cost; at any rate, he can be quite sure that it is not a big amount and we are only doing justice to a body of men who at present are outside the pensions scheme.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a; and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.