§ Lords Amendments considered.
§ Amendments as far as the Amendment in page 6, line 21, agreed to.
§ Page 6, line 21, to leave out from "1889," to the end of Clause 9, the next, Amendment, read a second time.597
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."—(Mr. Caldwell.)
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said he desired to bring before the House what threatened to be a great personal grievance and injustice to two of the employees of the company which this Bill absorbed. The circumstances were that for the last forty years Mr. Stimson had been the engineer to the company, and had largely assisted to bring it up to its present condition. He left the Great Northern Railway Company to join this company. If he had kept to the old company he would have been in receipt of a pension of some £70 a year. In this House the promoters of the Bill themselves inserted a proviso that any employee of the old company taken over by the Bill who had been ten years in the service of the Water Company should be entitled to compensation, the amount of which should be fixed by an assessor appointed by the Board of Trade. He thought the feeling of the House would be that an employee of forty years not only came within the strict letter of the clause inserted by the promoters themselves, but that the clause was the policy and practice of Parliament, and it was a right and just clause. How was a man sixty-two years of age to make a new departure in his employment? He would have an equitable claim, the strongest possible claim, on his old employers, but he would have no such claim on the new authority established by the Bill. The principle for which he was contending had been admitted by the promoters themselves, inasmuch as they had come to an agreement with the secretary to give him £500 compensation, although he was only receiving a salary of £30 a year and. some legal fees. Having disarmed opposition in the House of Commons by inserting the clause, the promoters, when the Bill reached another place, without any of the parties being communicated with, caused the clause to be struck out. And yet in the circular they had issued to hon. Members they positively complained that the engineer and collector had allowed this to be done without petition. The promoters' answer to his opposition now was that the services of these two employees were to be taken over. That might have been all right centuries ago when people were, like goods 598 and chattels, or like live stock, to be transferred with an estate. But surely those he represented had some title to being consulted before they were thus treated after their long years of service. They naturally objected to this treatment, and they pointed out that the promoters had already conceded the principle of compensation in the case of the secretary, as well as by themselves inserting in the Bill the clause which had subsequently been struck out in the Lords. He believed that the Chairman of Committees had been appealed to in regard to the matter, and, with that regard for right and justice which he had always shown, he had gone into the facts and had suggested that the parties should agree amicably to an arrangement which he believed to be fair and proper. Now, he (Sir Albert) did not presume to express any opinion upon the figures arrived at by the right hon. Gentleman. But he did venture to suggest that the pro-motors, having conceded the principle of compensation by themselves inserting a clause providing that it should be assessed by an arbitrator, it was only fair and proper that they should be held to it. He was sure the House would not allow a single employee to be taken out from the general body and placed completely in the cold. The gentlemen whom he represented declined to enter the service of the new authority. They asked that the promoters should be bound by their own clause, and that the provision that the amount of compensation due to them should be assessed by an arbitrator should be re-inserted in the Bill.
§ MR. RECKITT (Lincolnshire, Brigg)
supported the hon. Member for South Islington in his effort to secure the re-insertion in the Bill of the clause which would secure compensation for the collector and engineer. It was a usual proceeding to insert such a clause, and he remembered that a Bill was passed a year ago in which an urban district council agreed to purchase some gasworks, and in that Bill there was a clause providing that, in the case of any officer or servant who had been in the service of the company twelve years or upwards, they should, if they declined to continue in their posts, have a right to compensation. Now, the present Bill simply provided that these two men should be taken over with the undertaking. But was it not 599 rather hard on a man sixty-two years of age that he should be expected to begin life afresh in the service of the district council? Was it not quite possible that at the end of seven or eight years he would have to give up his position, and then he would have no claim for consideration at the hands of the council? It was only right that the House should safeguard his interests, and see that he was properly treated, either by the company who were selling the undertaking or by the authority who were purchasing it. He would like to point out that there was a clause in the Bill providing that, in the event of the urban district council and the water company being unable to agree as to the price to be paid for the undertaking, the dispute should be submitted to arbitration. Surely the right of the officials of the company to compensation formed one of those considerations which should go to determine the total price to be paid by the urban authority. The question the House had to decide was whether these two servants of the water company were to receive any compensation. They were perfectly satisfied with the Bill as it was originally laid on the Table of the House. The promoters now suggested that no petition against the Bill had been presented by these gentlemen. In taking up that attitude he did not think they were acting squarely towards the House. It was well known that heavy costs were entailed upon individuals who had to appear by counsel before a Parliamentary Committee in order to protect their interests in a Bill of that character. The tax was sufficiently severe in the case of wealthy people, and how could persons like an engineer or a rate-collector be expected to bear it? They ought not to be put to unnecessary hardship and expense, and he submitted, therefore, that it was only fair that the Bill should be restored to the form in which it passed the House of Commons—a form which sufficiently protected the interests of these two people.
§ MR. POLLOCK (Lincolnshire, Spalding)
said he wished to point out that the Bill provided that the urban authority should take over these two gentlemen with the undertaking, and they would receive the same salary as they had hitherto received from the company. He thought that that sufficiently protected their interests, and he would be very sorry indeed 600 if, in consequence of the opposition now being offered, the passing of the Bill was delayed. There was no reason whatever why either of the two officials should refuse to be transferred.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
Will the Chairman of Committees give the House the advantage of his advice? It seems to me very strange indeed that a clause passed by the House of Commons should have thus been struck out in the House of Lords.
*THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Mr. J. W. LOWTHER,) Cumberland, Penrith
I shall be very glad indeed if I can assist the House in coming to a decision on this matter. The facts are quite clear, and I think they have been adequately brought out. The position of these two gentlemen, I admit, is one which deserves consideration; but I doubt very much, notwithstanding what has fallen from the hon. Member for South Islington, whether this engineer has any right to receive any compensation at all from the present company in whose service he has been so long. So far as I can ascertain he would have no legal right whatever to compensation if the company were to dismiss him forthwith, assuming, of course, that the dismissal was a proper one. That being so the question arises, have these gentlemen any greater right against the council which has taken over the undertaking than they have against the company itself? I came to the conclusion, after hearing the arguments on both sides, that they had no legal right to compensation at all, but that in one respect they were put in a worse position under the Bill under their new masters than they would have been under their old masters, for it is pretty certain that a company which benefited by their services for so many years would never let them leave without some solatium or some pension, even although they might not be legally entitled to it. But the district council have undertaken to continue to employ them. Their case differs from that of the secretary of the company whose office has been abolished, and who consequently was entitled to compensation. When the parties were before me I suggested that a compromise might be arrived at, and, having been informed of the wages these two men were receiving, I made a 601 certain proposal to counsel in the case. I suggested, in fact, that an amicable settlement might be arrived at by the payment of a sum of £350 to these officials. I understood that the council was prepared to agree to that, but, unfortunately, the individuals in question have taken a higher view of their rights, and they are asking the House to give them full compensation in respect of their services, compensation to be paid, not by the company to whom those services were rendered, but by the ratepayers who are taking over the business of the company. I regret extremely that my suggestion has not been accepted. I believe it would have been judicious on the part of these gentlemen to have accepted it, and under the circumstances I would suggest that the House do agree with the Lords Amendment, striking out the compensation clause. In the notice of the original Bill there was nothing whatever about such a clause, and it seems to have been inserted in the Bill through an error of the draughtsman and contrary to the instructions of the district council. It was not until the Bill had passed through the House of Commons that the council discovered that the clause had been inserted, and they at once applied to the other House to have it struck out. That is the position of matters now. I believe that under the Local Government Act of 1888, as well as the Act of 1894, general principles are laid down for dealing with these matters, and it is provided that where a servant is continued in his employment by a county council on taking over the undertaking he is not entitled to receive compensation in respect of past services, but that where his services are brought to an end through his office being abolished he is entitled to compensation. If we follow that principle in this case we must agree to the Lords Amendments, and the result will be that we shall leave these gentlemen in the employ of their new masters, and they will not be left stranded after many years service.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, W.)
I am absolutely ignorant of the facts of this case, but I think it is one in which, to some extent, the character of the House of Commons for justice and fairness is involved. It is our duty, as far as possible, to protect those who cannot protect themselves. I quite agree 602 with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman as to the general principle which has been laid down for the guidance of this House in dealing with these matters. In the Bill as it passed through this House, a clause was inserted protecting the interests of these two gentlemen, if it was wrongly inserted it was the business of the promoters to have found it out and to have applied to get it struck out by this House. But they did nothing of the kind until the Bill reached another place, and now we naturally have representations made of the injustice which it is alleged is being done to these two officials by the striking out of the clause without notice to them and without their having had any opportunity of opposing such a proceeding. We are now asked to agree to the Lords Amendment and to leave a servant of forty years standing at the mercy of new employers, who, of course, will not look upon him very amicably, having regard to the attitude he has taken up here. He will be liable to be dismissed at three months notice. I do not think the House of Commons, should part with a Bill which inflicts an injustice of that sort, and I would therefore suggest that the debate should be postponed, so that the parties may have another opportunity of going before the Chairman of Committees in order to endeavour to arrive at a settlement. Whatever these gentleman are entitled to, let them have it secured to them by Act of Parliament. Do not allow the clause which protects them to be struck out, and thereby leave them at the mercy of people whom they have been fighting in this House. I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the debate be now adjourned."— (Sir Henry Fowler.)
MR. J. W. LOWTHER
I have no objection to the course proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. I can assure him that during the last fortnight I have done my best to bring these parties together. I shall be very glad indeed if a settlement can be arrived at, even if the terms I have suggested are not strictly adhered to. The adjournment at any rate will afford the parties an opportunity of reconsidering the matter, and I trust that, as a result, an amicable settlement may be arrived at, although I confess I have 603 no very great hope of it. I am afraid the House will be troubled again with it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Thursday next.