Post Office And Telegraph Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."After the account of the great events which has immediately preceded, the subject which I now introduce to the House causes us to descend to a more humdrum plane. In times when great events and days are shaping themselves, in which each one of us is attending to his own particular duty, I have to ask the House to bear with me while, in a very few words, I explain the contents of this Bill and ask the House to give it a Second Reading. The Bill itself is made necessary by Budget proposals which are now before the House in the form of the Finance Bill. It will be remembered that my Noble Friend, when he made these proposals on 23rd April, announced certain increases in postal, telegraph and telephone charges, and these increases are made solely to raise additional revenue for the purposes of the war. Speaking generally, many of these proposals which have been announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer have already been put into force because they did not require legislation for their enactment. All the postal increases, for example, with the exception of one, have been effected by Treasury warrant and are now operating, and the only reason for this Bill is that Parliament has in the past fixed certain statutory maximum charges for various forms of Post Office services, and there is no power to increase charges above these maxima without the consent of the House. That, in general, is the purpose of the Bill. As I have said, the bulk of the increased postal charges thus announced are not referred to in the Bill, because under the Post Office Acts it has been possible to effect them by warrant or regulation. The only postal charge for which it is necessary to legislate now is the inland registered newspaper rate. Clause 1 of the Bill removes the statutory maximum charge and makes it possible for this postal charge to follow the line of other postal charges and be enacted by warrant, as are the other charges. The fact that there will be these increases in the postal charge for registered newspapers—a charge of 1½for four ounces instead of 1d. for six ounces as at present—renders necessary the following Clause. Clause2 deals with cases where people have made contracts with the publisher of a periodical for the supply of that periodical at an inclusive charge covering the postage. This would necessitate those who sell these periodicals to meet the postal charge, which was not in contemplation by the parties when the contract was made. The Clause gives power for the contracts to be terminated so that the parties may make such fresh arrangements as they may agree on the matter. Clauses 3 and 4 deal with the telegraph service proper, and Clause 3 imposes a new maximum for the inland Press telegrams of 1s. 3d. for 60 words instead of 1s. Clause 4 raises the maximum charges for certain special classes of telegrams, that is to say, priority telegrams and greeting telegrams, where previously the maximum was 1s. for 12 words, and in future the charge for priority inland telegrams will be 1s. 3d. for nine words, and for greeting telegrams 1s. for nine words. Clause 5 deals with matters particularly affecting the telephone service. Hon. Members will see that without Clause 5 mention is made only of telegraph services and telegraph contracts and so on, but the word "telegraph" in its legal connotation includes the telephone services, and though certain private telegraph services are affected by Clause 5, the main purpose of the Clause is to deal with the telephone services. At the outset I should distinguish between the telephone exchange service and the private telephone service, because I find, from representations that have been made to me, that a certain amount of confusion exists in regard to this matter. The normal telephone service is the exchange service; that is to say, the line from the subscriber's house terminates in a telephone exchange, where it is possible to link him up with any other subscriber. That is the normal telephone service, but in addition to that there exist private telephone lines where the end is not in an exchange but in another office. Many newspapers in London have such private telephone lines to their offices in the so-called provinces, and there the exchange does not intervene at all. It is that second class where there is no exchange facilities which is the private telephone service proper. I mention that because some hon. Members have assumed that the private telephone service applied to the ordinary private subscriber, but it does not. The Budget charges which were announced were an increase in the charge of 15 per cent. on the exchange service and 25 per cent. on the private telephone service. In the ordinary exchange service the charges fall under two heads. There is the charge for calls, so much per call according to the distance, and the fixed periodical payment, of which rental is the most common and important. The charges for calls do not require legislation. The changes have been effected by regulation under the Telegraph Acts and are in force. Clause 5 deals with periodical payments like rentals, and the necessity for the Clause arises in this way. Telephone services are arranged between the Postmaster-General and the public by means of a contract made between them, and where new contracts come to be made they will be based on the new scale of charges, but in order to raise the necessary money which has been budgeted for, it is necessary that these increased charges should become exigible from 1st July. The purpose of the Clause is to deal with contracts which are now current and to make it plain that the charge will be exigible on 1st July. That means a unilateral intervention by this House in a contract entered into between two persons—the Postmaster-General and the citizen. Therefore we are enabling those affected by that variation, if they so desire, on proper notice to cancel their contract, so that they may, if they so desire, avoid a burden which they did not contemplate when they entered into the contract previously. Sub-section (8) of Clause 5 gives that power and Subsection (9) is consequential to the extent that if a person were given a month—
:May I ask the right hon. Gentleman why there is a different rate of interest in respect of exchange contract services and private contracts? The right hon. Gentleman said that some representation had reached him, and that may be why on this point, I understand, no objection has been taken to the 25 per cent.
The best answer that I can give is this: This is, of course, taxation, and in all questions of taxation it is for the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to decide what any particular source of revenue will stand. The view was formed when the Budget was framed that what the private telephone service would stand is 25 per cent. As regards the ordinary exchange service, the appropriate increase for taxation purposes is 15 per cent. I was saying that as these charges are now being included it is proposed by Subsection (8) to give power to a party to determine a contract if he so desires. Sub-section (9) makes it plain that if he does decide to cancel his contract, then, for two months over which the contract can run after 1st July, no extra charge will be exigible. Hon. Members will observe in the Bill, notably in Clause 5, that there is a reference to "any local telegraph authority." These words refer in the main to the Corporation of Hull, who operate their own system within their own boundaries under licence from the Postmaster-General under which terms are arranged between them. By this Bill the private citizens of Hull will have a privilege equal to that of fellow citizens in other boroughs in paying more for telephones in order to aid the national finances and to provide the sinews of war. The Bill gives Hull, in regard to subscribers, the same right as the Postmaster-General has in regard to the public. Clause6 deals with the Title and construction of the Measure. That is an outline of the Bill, and it only remains for me to say that the Post Office, besides rendering great service to the public, vital in time of peace and still more vital in time of war, is also a great revenue Department. It is purely in its latter capacity that I now move that the Bill be now read a Second time.
The House might feel that to a large extent discussion of this Bill is something of an anti-climax after what we have just witnessed in the House However, I will take the opportunity of welcoming the Postmaster-General on his first appearance in Debate since he took office. To some extent he calls for the commiseration of the House, because he has had the most extraordinary ill luck. He has been from Department to Department, and each time he arrived something went wrong with it. He has been put into the position of having to clear it up and has even had to carry responsibility and blame for something which happened previous to his arrival. He has now come into this office at a time when we are celebrating the centenary of the penny post which no longer obtains. It is a pity, of course, that the actual increase of postage is not in this Bill, because that would have been about the only thing on which we could have obtained a grip. It is a long way from the four ounces for a penny letter-post, which was granted in the Jubilee of 1891, to the proposals which have been introduced in the Finance Bill.There are two main points in this Bill; one the increase in newspaper postage, and the other alterations with regard to the telegraph services. In 1870 the introduction of the halfpenny newspaper rate was brought in, and now, 70 years after, we are going back. It is curious to reflect that, so far as London is concerned, we are now very much worse off from the point of postal delivery, organisation and cost than we were in the seventeenth cen- tury. This has been done in order that the revenue may gain. It will probably gain from more than one angle, because the further impost on ordinary printed matter has the effect of indirectly increasing the revenue. It costs as much to handle halfpenny services as it does to handle the penny service. The only criticism one can make is that the tax on newspapers is, perhaps, a tax on information and commercial channels, but while we could have argued this a little while ago, it is now entirely another matter. Although we cannot oppose it, we may look at it with regret and reckon that one of the disadvantages that war brings to a nation is that it throws us back in respect of communications. However, we have not been bombarded by various interests, and there has been no outcry in the Press, which seems to suggest that the tax on commercial telegrams has been accepted with proper public spirit. It is curious to note that in 1868 the Press was allowed to send 100 words a shilling by night and 75 words by day, so that we have gone back, in that respect, two steps. In 1920 the rates were increased by 25 per cent. Turning from that to the telegraph services, the Postmaster-General answered the question put to him, which was, I think, the only point which might have been made, namely, the peculiar anomaly which exists in the City of Hull, which is independent owing to the accident of time and the fact that it did not come within the ambit of the Post Office proper when the arrangements were made for taking over the telegraph and telephone services. I would like to ask a question in connection with the increased charges for the telegraph system. Does the Postmaster-General intend to wipe out by Regulation or this Bill the 50 calls allowed to private subscribers before any extra charge begins to count?
The answer is, "No."
I am glad to obtain that answer, because it does give an indication that things are not quite so bad as they seem from a first look at the Bill. With regard to the difference in exchange services, is it not so that they do recover a bit of their tax by the difference made in the charges?
The 15 per cent. is the surcharge on the exchange services and the 25 per cent. is on private wires, both for rentals and calls.
So that the private wire to a certain extent suffers in two ways by the 25 per cent. and by having to pay the extra amount. Newspapers too have private wires.
Perhaps I had better not interrupt the hon. Gentleman too much, because my hon. and gallant Friend will deal with these points later. The actual position is, however, that Press telegrams are sent over the Post Office system. The Exchange Telegraph Company, for instance, and companies of that sort, have private telegraph and telephone wires which they hire from us. They pay only for the wire and not for its use. They can use them much or little, as they desire.
Many newspapers use private wires, so that from that point of view the tax is not so bad as it seems at first sight. Greetings telegrams, I see, are to be charged a little extra. One cannot oppose a Bill like this on such an occasion. From the brief examination which one is able to give it, the imposts do not seem quite so bad as when looked at for the first time. One can now understand why the Press have not been active in their protests against this proposed increase. So far as the larger newspapers are concerned, they, to some extent, will escape, but their correspondents will have to bear the increased cost of increased telegrams. Naturally, we shall not do anything to impede the passage of this Bill, and I take this opportunity of congratulating the right hon. Gentleman, who is having a smoother passage with this Measure than has been his lot on many occasions in the past.
I want to ask the Postmaster-General a question, and it is with regard to the subscriber's right to cancel his contract with the Government when the Government propose to vary that contract unilaterally. I recognise that it is bare justice that subscribers should be allowed the option to cancel, but have the Government entirely counted the cost to the Revenue? There will be a number of subscribers, at the present time, especially those evacuated from their homes and those hard hit in business, who will welcome this opportunity as a convenient one to escape their obligations. Many would have to pay rentals for a substantial period of years, perhaps on a five or seven year contract. I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that in view of evacuation particularly many people who have left their houses empty are still paying to the Government and would have been liable to pay several more years' rental. I think it may be a rather expensive thing for the Revenue if, in order to add generally 15 per cent. to rentals throughout the country a large number of people should be able to escape altogether from paying rentals which they would otherwise have had to pay to the Government for the next several years. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider this point.
Five years ago a request was made to this House to provide a lot of further money for the development of the telegraph service. It was pointed out how unsatisfactory it was that the service should be carried on at a loss year after year. It was then stated that one of the principal contributory causes of that loss was the loss made on Press telegrams. I observe in the Bill that power is being taken to increase the charge for Press telegrams. For my part, I am pleased to see that. I wish the increase had been higher. After all, every industry in the country has to bear a great burden of taxation and thereby contributes to the Exchequer of the country and its general well-being. Here we have a sheltered industry which, so far from making a contribution to the revenue, is a burden year after year. It seems to me that attention should be drawn to this; anything that can be done to remedy it is most desirable.With regard to Press telegrams in particular, the Press lords can very well afford to pay for the public service provided for them. I see no reason why they should be subsidised by being allowed to send telegrams at rates which constitute a loss to the telegraph service of the country. Moreover, I suggest that not only can they afford to pay for the service which is given to them, but that in point of fact they do not make so good a use of the service that we need worry very much about it? If we consider the information given in the popular Press, much of which has been telegraphed at the expense of the Exchequer, I think we may reflect that we could do without a good deal of it. As this subject has been raised by the Bill, I shall be glad if someone on behalf of the Government will give us a little information on this matter. It would be interesting to know whether any effort has been made by the Post Office to find out what the effect would be if such a charge was made for Press telegrams as would reasonably cover the cost of the service provided. No doubt that would result in some diminution in the amount of Press telegrams, but it would be interesting to know whether the subject has been investigated by the Post Office and what conclusions they have reached. I know that this is a rather thorny subject for the Postmaster-General. I have always thought that one reason why it has never been tackled is because very often we have had a young Minister, an Under-Secretary with a bright future before him, made Postmaster-General, and it is rather too much to ask him to do something which would be unpopular to the Press, which is so very powerful in the country. We are fortunate now in having a more seasoned Minister in charge of the Post Office. Whatever failings we may have attributed to the right hon. Gentleman we are bound to admit that he is not lacking in courage, and I hope he will take the opportunity, if he cannot do it within the scope of the Bill, to investigate the questions, first, why this great service, which should easily be made to earn large sums in revenue for the benefit of the country, should be carried on at a loss; and, secondly, whether that part of the loss which is attributed to the subsidy which in effect is given to the newspaper proprietors to-day, could not easily be cut out without any reasonable person in this country losing anything of value.
May I ask whether the City of Hull have a right to refuse this payment, or whether there is any power in the Bill to compel them?
Let me reply to the question of the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) at once. The City of Hull are bound to pay to the Postmaster-General the 15 per cent. The hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir J. Mellor), of course, appreciates that there are comparatively few of the cases of the kind he mentioned, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to take into consideration the possibility that some at any rate might throw in their hands and give up their contracts. The maximum loss at the worst is about £90,000, which is a small item compared with the total revenue. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) raised the question of Press telegrams. He rather made a large mountain out of a very small molehill. The actual loss on Press telegrams is about £64,000, but I must even qualify that statement by saying that a proportion of overheads are included, and the actual out-of-pocket loss on Press telegrams is not really sufficient to warrant an inquiry at such times as these. The Postmaster-General, however, has authorised me to say that my hon. Friend's remarks will be noted.
Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
Bill read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[ Sir J. Edmondson.]
Superannuation Schemes (War Service) Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."As the House is aware, one of the principal aims of the Ministry of Labour at the present time is to secure the best use of skilled labour. To get this it is obviously necessary for skilled workers to leave the employment in which they find themselves in order to go into factories engaged in the production of war munitions. It has been found that in certain cases the fact that a man is covered by a superannuation scheme in his present job is an obstacle to his leaving it and going where he is most wanted, as it means a loss to him of certain benefits upon which he had been very properly counting. The purpose of this Bill is twofold. It is designed, in the first place, to enable trustees and others concerned with administering superannuation schemes to prevent loss of rights under a scheme which might otherwise result from employés going into the Armed Forces or into civil employment for war purposes. Secondly, it is to enable the payment of contributions to be continued on behalf of persons after they have left the employment to which the schemes relate. I would remind the House that the rights of persons affected by the Military Training Act, 1939, and the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces Act, 1939, were protected by provisions of this nature made by Orders-in-Council under those two Acts. There was power also under the Armed Forces Act, 1939, to protect men called up for service by similar Orders-in-Council, but this power did not extend to men who volunteered for service nor to men transferring to war employment. It is necessary, therefore, to ask the House to pass this Bill in order to cover such cases. I do not think I need stress the desirability of a Measure to maintain the rights of men serving in the Forces, and I need hardly add that many concerns have been most anxious to do this for their employés, but in some cases have not legally been in a position to do so. As far as civil employment goes, unless power is given to trustees and others concerned, any men or women covered by a superannuation scheme who transfer to war employment would suffer loss which it would be hard for them to bear. We have already made provision in the Local Government (War Service) Superannuation Act, 1939, and in other Acts, to protect the rights of local government staffs, teachers, constables, firemen and civil servants, and the Ministry of Health is co-operating with the Ministry of Labour in taking the most active steps it can to encourage members of local government staffs who can be released for war work. In view of the urgent need for every skilled man and woman to find his or her way into vital war industries, it is clear that no measure should be neglected which will help to achieve this object. There are many private firms as well as a number of public and semi-public bodies whose staffs are covered by superannuation schemes and who should be encouraged, when they can be spared, to transfer to war work. Such schemes are of very diverse kinds, and about 1,500,000 employés are covered by them. Some are operated by individual employers or groups of employers through insurance companies. A few workers are covered by independent group schemes, but the vast majority are covered by schemes operated by individual employers themselves. The House will observe that this is an enabling Bill. It enables trustees, employers or insurance companies to take advantage of its provisions. It has been discussed by the National Joint Advisory Council, which represents the organisation of employers and the trade unions. As the employers' organisations have welcomed the Bill, and in view of their attitude and of certain undertakings given on behalf of life insurance companies, for which I should like to express my appreciation, the Government are asking the House to pass the Bill in the confident expectation that full use will be made of it and that employers who can spare workpeople covered by their superannuation schemes for work of a more urgent national importance, will do so to the greatest extent possible and will put no obstacle in the way of such transfers. It is in this confidence that the Bill is made permissive instead of imposing obligations which would not be easy to define owing to the very wide variation in the nature and terms of superannuation schemes. If, however, the Bill does not achieve the object desired, I want to make it clear that the Government will not hesitate to come to the House for further legislation in this matter. Hon. Members will notice that the Bill covers all service in the Armed Forces whether or not a man has entered the Armed Forces as a volunteer or has been compulsorily called up. It will be for the Minister of Labour and National Service to determine what employment should be recognised as employment for war purposes, but I think I should tell the House that it is the intention of the Minister to recognise employment in all industries essential to the war effort, including such occupations as agriculture and coal mining, as well as those industries directly connected with the production of arms. It will also be possible for the Minister to give the necessary certificate in the case of men who undertake training to fit them for the war employment they propose to take up. The proposals contained in the Bill have been discussed with representatives of the life insurance companies which are concerned in this matter. As the House is aware, many private firms make provision for superannuation by taking out group policies on the lives of their employés and in order that the rights under such schemes may be preserved, it was necessary to obtain an undertaking from the insurance companies as to the way in which they will deal with policies affecting any employés in respect of whom arrangements are made under the provisions of this Bill. The policies taken out with the companies often provide not only pension benefits but also life assurance benefits. With regard to pension benefits, the companies have given the Government to understand that they will continue to accept payment of contributions in respect of men serving in the Armed Forces or transferred to war employment. Where payment of contributions is continued the insurance companies will allow the employé concerned to continue in any scheme without loss of pension rights. If pension contributions are not continued after the date of the transfer to the Armed Forces or to employment for war purposes, the benefits secured by the contributions to the date of cessation of payment will be protected and contributions may be resumed at the end of the war upon the return of the employé and his re-entry into the scheme. With regard to the second class of benefits, life insurance benefits, and, in certain cases, total disablement benefits, the group premiums cover only the risks allowed for in the original employment and make no allowance for increased hazards such as military or certain other war-time services. Therefore, the insurance companies have intimated that they cannot continue to pay life assurance benefits under the group policies in respect of employés transferred from their original employment in cases where the employé is transferred to service in the Armed Forces or to war employment where there is a material increase in the hazard. In most cases, however, under the existing schemes an employé,on the termination of assurance under the scheme, is entitled, when he is under 60 years of age, to effect an individual policy for the amount for which he has hitherto been covered in the group scheme at the rate for his attained age, and this he can do without any evidence of health. If in a group assurance, as was the case in many policies taken out before 1937, there was no restriction as to war risks, the individual policy would be issued free from war restrictions or the imposition of any special war extra premium. The insurance offices have, however, agreed that where employés are transferred to war employment where there is no material increase in hazard they will continue to hold the employé covered both for life assurance as well as for pension if both contributions are maintained, provided that there is no selective discrimination by the employer in the choice of the men for whom he will continue to contribute. In the case of men serving with the Armed Forces, provision has already been made by the Government for death and disability, and as a general rule, of course, this provision is much in excess of the cover usually provided under group life assurance. In view of the urgent need of the transfer of workers to the production of armaments, I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading this afternoon, and I hope very much that it will be possible for it to be passed into law with all convenient speed.
:On behalf of my hon. Friends and myself, we welcome this Bill. I should have been a little happier if the Minister had not stopped short when he spoke about what transpired in the negotiations between his Department, the assurance companies and the trade unions. He told us that the insurance companies had agreed to certain propositions, but I do not think he made clear what was the attitude of the trade unions; and before this Debate is closed, perhaps he will be good enough to tell us exactly what is their attitude. This Bill is necessary for the reasons which the Parliamentary Secretary has very well stated. The number of superannuation schemes in this country has grown enormously during our life-time, and it would be a thousand pities if men who, together with their employers, have paid contributions towards these schemes for years, were deprived of the benefit of them because they may have left their employment temporarily, either to go into the Armed Forces or some other occupation.For my part, I wish this Bill was not merely an enabling Bill; I think it ought to be made compulsory. Hon. Members and the Government will understand that during the earlier period of any war, the enthusiasm for men who join the Forces is very much greater than it is later on. I remember in the last war that at the beginning of hostilities employers made up the whole of the wages of their staffs when they joined the Army, but they did not continue the practice until the war ended. They made payment in respect of some of their employés who joined up first, but when the war had gone on for two or three years they paid nothing in respect of those who joined the Forces later. I imagine that a similar attitude may be adopted in connection with payments to superannuation schemes. Incidentally, I am myself within a small superannuation scheme, and I have been wondering what would happen to me if I were conscripted into the Forces and my superannuation payments suffered. I should like to put two or three points to the Parliamentary Secretary, and I hope he will look into them. I am never happy when a Minister of the Crown talks about discussions with insurance companies. We have discussed this sort of problem before. The impression given is that this Bill is, in a large measure, if not entirely, the Bill which the insurance companies want Parliament to pass. The Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head. I wish he had sufficient grounds for shaking his head. I know the insurance companies probably as well as most hon. Members do; I have a fair idea of what they can do and what they will not do. This Bill is an enabling Bill, and the Parliamentary Secretary has told us that should it be found later on that this permissive Measure is not working properly, the Government will bring in compulsion. I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind the tragedy that would occur if a man left his ordinary occupation to enter another, and died or was killed when following that new employment. Is the hon. Gentleman absolutely satisfied that under this Bill the committees which administer some of these schemes would make a payment to the widow and the dependants—because that is allowed under some of the schemes, if not most of them—if the man died before he arrived at the superannuation age? I will give an example. In most superannuation schemes the contributions are paid by the employer and the employed at about an equal rate. If a man dies before the age at which he is to be superannuated, generally speaking the contributions which he has paid, plus interest on them, are handed over to the widow. In other cases the contributions of both the employer and employed, plus the accrued interest, are all handed over to the widow. Those are the principles on which these schemes work. This, however, is what concerns me about this Bill, and it is a matter which is very much more important than appears on the surface. Suppose a man works in an occupation where the staff is covered by a superannuation scheme, and he goes into an occupation where there is no such scheme. That would probably be quite a common thing. For instance, in the co-operative movement, with which I am connected, nearly all the employés are covered by superannuation schemes. Suppose that such an employé became a coal miner, say, in South Wales, and there is no superannuation in that coal industry. Or supposing a shop assistant or a bank clerk were transferred to an occupation connected with the production of munitions. In his original employment there might be a superannuation scheme, but in the new employment there is none. Frankly, I know of no means whereby a man in such a new occupation where there is no scheme compelling a deduction from his wages would voluntarily pay his contribution to the old scheme covering his former employment. Therefore, unless there is compulsion, it seems that a great deal of hardship will ensue later on to that type of person. I was a little surprised when the Parliamentary Secretary talked about the insurance companies. I can almost predict now that in everything the insurance companies have done in connection with this Bill, about group schemes, annuities and contributions, they will have worked out the figures to decimal points and to the smallest fraction, and in the end their balance sheets and profit and loss accounts will not be affected adversely in the least by what they give away in this Bill. Having said that, and being usually a little critical of insurance companies, let me say that we welcome the principles of this Measure. We want it to pass into law. I think nevertheless it ought to be made compulsory, because otherwise I can foresee all manner of difficulties arising in connection with the administration of these schemes. We shall watch with interest how these provisions operate in practice, and if complaints reach us from people who find that they are likely to lose their rights under superannuation schemes as a result of transference to other occupations, I hope the hon. Gentleman, even though he is a Minister in a Coalition Government, will not be offended when we call his attention to those facts. I hope, too, that if it is found necessary, he will then take steps to make these provisions compulsory.
I am glad that the Government have, for the present at any rate, made this only an enabling Measure. I think the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) does not appreciate some of the difficulties which are involved in these schemes. Roughly speaking, there are two kinds of schemes. There are the schemes in which employers and employed work together, with hard-and-fast rules which cannot be varied. There is the other type of scheme in which the payments connected with the scheme go to an insurance company.
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that under any scheme, anywhere, there are rules which cannot be altered?
Of course I do not. I have no doubt that a Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a member, would probably alter the rules, whatever anybody might say. I am merely pointing out the distinction between the two kinds of scheme which now operate. The point is that when you are dealing with an insurance company you must, as far as possible, keep the contract which you have made. A contract has been made on a certain basis, and it has to be kept. We cannot complain if the insurance company says, "This risk which it is now thought desirable to include was not part of our original bargain, and if it is to be brought in, it must bear a certain monetary relation to the whole position." That is only fair. I am glad, therefore, that this Bill is permissive, because there are many schemes in existence which have nothing to do with insurance companies. Since the war started the rules of those schemes have been altered so as to do just what this Bill provides for doing. If the Government should think it necessary, in future, to bring in a Bill to make the plan of this Measure compulsory, I hope they will put in a Clause allowing for exceptions under certain conditions so as to allow schemes which are already fulfilling all the requirements of this Bill, to be treated as exceptions subject to all proper conditions being observed. In effect, I hope they will allow "contracting out" of any compulsory Measure, if such should be introduced later. If there is in existence a hard-and-fast set of rules and if they are being carried out, you should allow that to continue, but where the conditions are not being justly met then, I think, there might be ground for applying compulsion. I suggest, however, that my hon. Friend, before bringing forward a general proposal, ought to produce some individual instances by which his general suspicions might be crystallised into real evidence and let us deal with the matter on the basis of that evidence as far as it goes. I do not think it is just to make general accusations about insurance companies when, on the whole, they are at present helping all they can.
Has the hon. Gentleman read the Cohen Committee's report on industrial insurance?
I have read the report, but it is not germane to this question and does not really affect this situation. But I do suggest that if my hon. Friend has anything real to produce in the way of evidence, he should specify it and not treat this as a general question in the way he has done.
This Bill is obviously necessary to fill certain gaps in previous legislation and to cover the cases of certain men who have joined the Colours or who are accepting civilian employment at war work. I presume that the scope of this proposal includes service in A.R.P. work, A.F.S. work, and other work of that kind. I am particularly interested in the type of insurance scheme, of which there are many in this country, in which an individual firm has its own joint scheme, contributed to by employer and employed. I think a certain measure of compulsion ought to be brought in wherever it is proved necessary. In a great many cases—I hope in all—it is practicable now for an employer to pay not only his own contribution but those of the employés, and this is being done. I think it is the desire of the Government that that should continue under the provisions of this Bill.The workers attach enormous importance to these schemes. I have noticed it during discussions in works councils connected with businesses with which I am associated. They are more anxious to ensure something for the years of their retirement than about almost anything else. If under war conditions the admirable schemes which now exist were spoiled or their value diminished in respect of persons who are giving their services to the State, it would be a great pity. I know that the Government desire to avoid that eventuality. Perhaps the Minister will tell us, when he replies, how far the Government themselves are acting in accordance with the provisions of this Measure. Are they keeping alive the insurances of persons in their own employment and setting an example to the rest of the country? If the Minister can give us any information about the practice in that respect, I am sure it will be appreciated by hon. Members and by the country as a whole. I do not know whether any difficulty is likely to arise as regards the question of period. I take it that the Bill is to operate until the war ends. It is easy to see how it would work in relation to the Forces, but as regards civilian employment, there are possibilities of difficulty. A man might stop work some time before the war ended, or might be required to carry on his work for a certain period after the war ended. I presume that in all such cases the rights of the men concerned will be preserved.
I intervene to seek elucidation of one point only, but before dealing with it, I would like to say that this is a very wise Measure. At a time of great stress like the present, it is tremendously important that all who give their services where those services are most required, should have their superannuation rights preserved. A man may easily be trans- ferred, in present circumstances, from an employment in which there is a superannuation scheme to another employment which is more urgent at the moment, but which is without a superannuation scheme. It is unfair to ask the man to sacrifice his rights and it is right that he should be able to carry on his superannuation benefits, even though he undertakes a new employment. This Bill may help to give the Ministry powers which they require in order to fit men in where their services will be most valuable.The point which I wish explained is how railway superannuation funds will be affected. In the Schedule there is a list of persons to whom this Measure will not apply. They are mostly people in the Civil Service and the local government service, and they are all members of statutory superannuation schemes. The railway clerical, supervisory and technical employés also belong to statutory superannuation schemes, but they are not mentioned specifically in this Bill. I realise, as I am sure the Minister realises, that it is unlikely that servants of railway companies, in clerical, supervisory and administrative capacities, would be transferred in any large number to other industries. The railway companies are carrying on their undertakings with the very minimum of staff. When we consider the strain which has been imposed on the Southern Railway in bringing the men of the B.E.F. back from the South-East Coast during the last few days, and performing that task so successfully, it is obvious that no great deduction can be made from the staffs of the railway companies. I would like the Minister to say whether this Bill will affect the statutory railway superannuation funds, and, if so, in what way.
I wish to ask the Minister, first, whether this Measure has been made an enabling Bill because of the complications which would arise if it were made compulsory? I can foresee the possibility of many complications. The next question which I would ask the Minister to resolve is this: Is there any provision in the Bill to enable those who have contributed to schemes for many years and who fall into arrears, to pay up those arrears afterwards, so that their position may be restored? Suppose that a man has been paying so much a year into a superannuation scheme. Owing to the war he is unable to continue payment. At the end of the war, will he be able to say, "I will pay now the premiums which I should have paid during the war years, and you will restore me to the position which I should have been in, if I had not been on active service or engaged in war work as the case may be"? The third question to which I would like an answer is this: Will this apply to all persons engaged in war work except those mentioned in the Schedule, and in cases where there is any doubt, will the matter be left to the determination of the Minister of Labour?
I can speak again only by leave of the House. [Hon. Members: "Agreed."] There are one or two points which have been raised and with which I desire to deal as far as I can. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), who, with other hon. Members, welcomed the Bill, asked about the attitude of the trade unions. I may tell him, although he may know it already, that the trade unions welcomed the Bill, but they too desired that it should be compulsory rather than permissive. There is, of course, a number of difficulties in the way of making it compulsory. Some of these were referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Ecclesall (Sir G. Ellis). I have given the House an assurance that the Government will be prepared to propose further legislation if this Bill fails to fulfil the desires of the Government, after a reasonable period has elapsed in which we can see how it works. There was another point raised by the hon. Member for Westhoughton. He was somewhat critical of the insurance companies. I think it right to say in this particular case that insurance companies have made some very reasonable concessions, and only just before the House met this afternoon, one of the points which created some difficulty was decided, and in that particular case the insurance companies fell in entirely with the wishes of the Government.The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) also asked one or two questions. He asked in the first place what the Government did for their own employés. I understand that the position is that the Government do not contribute in these schemes, but the period of service of men who are away with the Forces is, of course, counted in their favour in determining their pension rights.
Is that the case if they go away on civil work?
I should like to make some inquiry upon that point, and I will let the hon. Member know. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton also asked about A.R.P. workers, and other workers doing that sort of work. The answer is that, as far as concerns paid workers, they will, of course, be amongst those people whom the Minister of Labour and National Service would certify as being employed for war purposes. It is entirely left in his discretion, as the House will observe at the bottom of page 2 of the Bill, whom he certifies as being employed for war purposes, and certainly he will exercise his discretion in the direction suggested by my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Central Hockney (Mr. Watkins) asked about the railway companies. They are not among those exempted under the Schedule, and, therefore, they are covered by the Bill itself and are able to take advantage of its provisions. I do not think there are any other points, but if there are, perhaps we shall have an opportunity of dealing with them on the Committee stage.
Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
Bill read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[ Mr. Whiteley.]
National Service (Channel Islands) Bill Lords
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."This Bill is short, and it is good. It comes to us from another place, and I can explain its provisions to the House in three or four sentences. As its Title describes it, it is to provide for the enlistment of men called up in the Channel Islands for service in the Armed Forces of the Crown. While the people of the Channel Islands have always been liable to compulsory service in defence of the islands, they are traditionally exempt from compulsory service overseas, except for the particular purpose of rescuing their Sovereign. This immunity is of very long standing, dating back to the early thirteenth century, but it was confirmed by a charter of Queen Elizabeth as recently as the year 1562. To-day the islanders are willing and anxious to play their part to the full in our war efforts, and they have expressed the desire to waive their traditional privileges. In fact, the States of Jersey and Guernsey have already passed, or are in the process of passing, legislation to that end. Constitutionally, however, such domestic legislation undertaken by the Channel Island authorities can have no extra territorial validity, and an Act of the Imperial Parliament is, therefore, required in order to confirm and regularise the position.
As probably one of the few Members of this House who can claim Channel Island descent, I should like in a very few words to support cordially this Measure and to say how delighted one is to see every part of the Empire doing everything they possibly can at this time. It is, of course, perfectly right that the Channel Islands should be treated with every possible consideration. They attach great importance to their ancient historic rights, and joint legislation is clearly necessary in this case. When William the First came over and conquered England in 1066 he was as Duke of Normandy supported by the Channel Islanders who were then under his sovereignty. So, in some sense, they have always claimed to have participated in the conquest of England. But to whom it may concern throughout the world I should like to add that it is the last occasion on which England will be conquered.
Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
Bill read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[ Mr. Whiteley.]
Evidence And Powers Of Attorney Bill Lords
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."I rise to move the Second Reading of this Bill, dealing with three or four different matters, which I shall try to explain, very briefly, on going through the Clauses. The procedure in ordinary peace-time for enabling British subjects, or other persons, who have business here to swear affidavits abroad which would be accepted in this country is quite inadequate in war-time when there are so many of our fellow citizens serving overseas. It is, therefore, thought right that special procedure should be introduced to enable such documents to be taken before officers of the various units with which these men may be serving. Clause 1, Sub-section (1) provides that:
There are many occasions on which someone serving abroad may require to do that—one obvious example is where a man is concerned in winding up an estate. Sub-section (2) of the same Clause deals with those who might be in enemy territory, or territory which might be occupied by the enemy, and enables the Secretary of State to provide for empowering persons serving in the Diplomatic, Consular or other foreign service of a Power which by arrangement with His Majesty have undertaken to represent him in those countries, to administer oaths or take affidavits. Clause 2 deals with quite a different matter. The Censorship Department realised that cases might arise in which intercepted communications might be material evidence in criminal cases—for example, cases under the Trading with the Enemy Act. Under the ordinary procedure officials of that Department would have had to attend the trial—probably the commital proceedings and the trial— to give what would be purely formal evidence that these were the documents which had been intercepted by the Censorship Department. They asked, therefore, whether their officials could be exempt from that duty, both on the grounds of saving time, and also that there might be cases where, at the time of a trial, the official who was involved had subsequently been sent overseas. Anything which affects the law of evidence, particularly in criminal matters, is one which requires very careful consideration, and my Noble Friend asked a small Committee, consisting of Mr. Justice Humphreys, Sir Gerald Dodson and other lawyers familiar with criminal work, to look into this matter, and to see whether they thought these demands could be met without any danger or injustice. The result is that Clause 2 provides that a certificate by a competent officer that, either a particular identified document has been intercepted, or a photograph of the document which has been intercepted, shall be admissible as evidence in the ordinary courts. That does not mean it is conclusive if the defence has grounds for showing that it is not what it purports to be. It merely means it is admissible as evidence, and, as a result, formal evidence by officers of the Department will be dispensed with. Clause 3 deals with powers of attorney. The fact that so many men are outside this country serving overseas will mean that a great many more powers of attorney have to be executed by those abroad than was the case in ordinary times. There are many acts for which a power of attorney are necessary, and the main purpose in Clause 3 is to provide certain safeguards. Obviously, it does open certain temptations to certain people to fabricate powers for those who have gone abroad and cannot look after their own affairs, and to seek dishonestly to claim advantage by fraudulent use of those powers. These matters, together with the matters in Clause 1, were looked into by a Committee presided over by Lord Maugham—that there should be extra safeguards to prevent fraudulent action of that kind. This Clause provides that there shall be a file of an affidavit by a solicitor who drew up the powers. I think that these are reasonable safeguards, and that it is also true to say that the ordinary law with regard to powers of attorney does not provide any particular safeguard—at any rate it is regarded by some people as somewhat lax in that respect. Dealing therefore with the situation we have at present, with many people overseas who cannot look after their own affairs, it is reasonable that we should have special safeguards. Sub-section (3) is designed to protect third parties. I may want a somewhat different provision in Committee, and therefore I just make that passing reference for the time being. Clause 4 deals with a technical defect in the law. Under the present law, office copies of these documents filed in this country or in Northern Ireland are accepted at courts in this country or in Northern Ireland but not in Scotland. As the object of this Bill is that these documents can be filed in any of the three countries, the Clause puts the law on a uniform basis and enables office copies or the equivalent to be accepted in the courts of all the three countries wherever the original may have been filed."The Lord Chancellor may by order provide for empowering officers of His Majesty's naval, military and air forces, holding such ranks or appointments as may be specified in the order, to administer oaths and take affidavits during any war in which His Majesty is engaged for all or any purposes for which an oath may be administered or affidavit taken by a commissioner for oaths appointed under Section one of the Commissioners for Oaths Act, 1889."
Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
Bill read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[ Mr. Whiteley.]
"That Mr. Amery, Mr. Chamberlain, Mr. Greenwood and Sir Archibald Sinclair be discharged from the Committee of Privileges, and that Mr. Clynes, Colonel Sir George Court hope, Sir Percy Harris, Sir Hugh O'Neill and Earl Winterton be added to the Committee.—[Mr. Whiteley.]
Kitchen And Refreshment Rooms (House Of Commons)
"That Miss Wilkinson be discharged from the Select Committee on Kitchen and Refreshment Rooms (House of Commons) and that Mrs. Hardie be added to the Committee."—[Mr. Whiteley.]
The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Whiteley.]
Adjourned accordingly at Thirteen Minutes before Six o'Clock.