§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 3rd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."2107
§ Mr. HOGGE
Can anyone on the Front Bench tell the House what are the intentions of the Government with regard to the Bill which was sent from this House to the House of Lords dealing with Military and Naval Pensions? I understand that in defiance of the party truce the Lords have this afternoon divided on the Bill and have postponed its consideration until after the Recess. The Prime Minister informed us this afternoon that the Recess was to last at any rate for six weeks. That means that a great many of the purposes for which this Bill was created are going to be postponed for six weeks. Those of us in this House who take a keen interest in this Bill and sat through a day and a half when that Bill was considered in great detail, will agree with me that there are a number of purposes which that Bill was designed to fulfil, and for which there should be no delay. For example, there is the question of separation allowances, which are not payable out of public funds. There are a great number of mothers, and sisters, and other female dependants who cannot get any allowance at all because of the rules of the Select Committee, and all these allowances are determined on a prewar basis. I have given one case over and over again, and I will give it again now—the case of a lad who joined the Army and whose parents agreed that they would not take any separation allowance. When that lad had been six months at war the father died, and his mother is left. The boy is willing to allot half his pay to the mother so that she may get 12s. 6d. separation allowance, if the War Office are willing to permit it. They do not allow that to obtain.
This Bill, as sent up to the House of Lords, at any rate created a body to which appeal could be made for the separation allowance. The phrase in the Bill, of course, refers to the disabled soldiers and sailors. All that, forsooth, is to be left over for six or seven weeks by the House of Lords. I want to ask the Patronage Secretary, who is in charge of the business of the House, what is the meaning of this? We have a Coalition Government in this House, and everybody in this House supporting that Coalition Cabinet. Yet my hon. Friend and his Cabinet are not able to control the House of Lords. The House of Lords are able to throw in the face of the Coalition Government a Bill which was sent from this House to the House of Lords with the full weight of the House 2108 of Commons, and it dealt with a matter which undoubtedly affects the lives of the common people of this country. I want to know from the Government whether they intend to take this lying down, whether they intend to take this action of the Lords in the quiet way they take most things, or are they making any arrangements to over-ride this vote of the House of Lords? After all, it is the duty of this Coalition Government to maintain a majority of its own Members in the House of Lords to defeat any offensive minority. They have not been able to do that. To-day they have been beaten on their own ground. Does that mean that the Coalition Government have lose the confidence of the. House of Lords? Does it mean that the Government are going to resign? At all events, let us know that the Government, so far as the House-of Commons is concerned, is going to take measures between now and the Adjournment to prevent this vote of the House of Lords further delaying the people in need of their pensions from obtaining them. They have been kept in poverty because of the delay in granting these pensions and separation allowances. Let us know what you are going to do to thwart the will of the House of Lords.
§ Mr. KING
I very much support what has just fallen from the hon. Member, but I will not go over the same ground, though it is a new ground and may be reinforced. I wish to ask another question: Does the Government really propose to carry through before the Adjournment the Indictments Bill? That is not emergency legislation at all.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
I should like to join with my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh in his protest against the action of the other House in postponing this very important Bill, to which we devoted here something like two or three days to the Committee and Report stages. This Bill is really one of the most important Bills that has passed this House this Session. I heard the Debate in the other place this evening, and I was astonished to find that the reason why the Members of the other place postponed the consideration of this Bill was on the narrow ground—the selfish ground—that there was the probability that this Bill might abolish the possibility of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association distributing public money—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
As I have pointed out, this is not the place to reply to speeches in the other House.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
I shall not refer to any more speeches in the other House but I want to put a further question to the Government.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
The Government ought to provide a majority in the House of Lords for the purpose of carrying this Bill through. We all knew that there was going to be this opposition in the Lords. This is a most serious and cruel action to a very large number of poor men who have been disabled in the War. I have been to the War Office myself on several occasions of late with regard to pensions for disabled soldiers, and I have been told that there is no possibility of these men obtaining the maximum of their pensions until this Committee to be set up has reported to the War Office or the Admiralty. The whole of these pensions, although there is a Department in St. James's Park set aside to deal with them, cannot be dealt with until this statutory Committee it set up, and the local committees say that they can recommend or decide upon the facts presented to them. I say it is a very cruel action on the part of the Lords to throw out this Bill, considering that factor. I know one case of a man coming back with his arm paralysed; it is a case which I have taken up myself. This man is getting a meagre pension, and I am told that it is impossible for the War Office to decide anything in this case until they have got the decision of the statutory Committee. I think that the Government must really do something to obviate this.
I am not going into the question of the soldiers and sailors, and I will discuss that matter some other time. I should like to point out, however, that when this Pensions Committee was set up those of us who took a very great interest in this subject were asked when that Committee, composed of the leaders on both sides and representatives of Labour and the Irish party was set up, would we abide by their decision. It is a very extraordinary thing that this Bill is really based upon a Report recommended by the Pensions Committee, with the present Colonial Secretary in the chair, who was then the Leader of the Conservative party. The Bill was brought in upon the unanimous recommendation of 2110 that Committee. So far as the House of Commons is concerned we abide loyally by the Report of that Committee, and I think the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hayes Fisher), who belongs to the Conservative party—we pay him the tribute-that he took a very great interest in the Bill, and was extremely fair to us all—complimented us upon the fact that we attempted and endeavoured and did improve that Bill in passing through Committee. It was a very extraordinary sight for us to-day to see the Conservative party in the other place take such action. While we are not prepared, and cannot discuss now the underlying actions which, have governed those in another place, I am bound to say that we have evidence that there has been a very active propaganda for some time in the public Press advising the other place to emasculate or reject this Bill. I think that it is a very serious matter, and that it is the duty of the right hon. Gentleman, who has taker a prominent and active part in the shaping of the measure, to rise and repudiate the-action of the other place in rejecting the-Bill. When the country realise that the-other place has postponed consideration of the Bill, and when the families of these disabled men, who are coming back from the War in their hundreds, if not in their thousands, find that they have to wait-for their pensions, the action of the House of Lords in postponing this Bill and thereby deferring these just benefits to these men, will be regarded as one of the most cruel actions which that House has ever taken in its history
§ Mr. PRATT
I have had brought to my notice during recent weeks several cases in my own Constituency of men who have-returned from the front totally disabled and who are receiving at the present time-much less than the sum which they will receive after the statutory Committee is-set up. One has had to tell them time after time that very shortly this Committee would be established, and that the maximum sum would be paid to them. It is very little good saying to these people that they should receive their arrears in? course of time. They are poor people, and it is a tremendous hardship to have-to go to them and tell them that they will have to wait six or eight weeks before these arrears can be paid up. I wish to-press upon the Patronage Secretary that there will be very hot anger all over the-country if there is to be this postponement for another six or eight weeks. I 2111 understand that we are threatened with changes—I am not allowed to refer to another place—that will leave the welfare of disabled soldiers and sailors upon the cold hands of charity. The country is not going to stand it. The restoration to health of disabled soldiers and sailors who have come back from the front after having risked their very lives in the service of their country, their training for fresh employment, and their passage into fresh employment, ought to be undertaken by the State and at the cost of the State, and I would impress upon my hon. Friend that any change that is going to leave these functions of the statutory Committee or any of these functions which we have been discussing lately upon the cold hands of charity will be very warmly resented by all sorts and conditions of people throughout the length and breadth of this land. It is as little as we can do to see that the needs of these brave men returning disabled and weak shall not be left to the cold hand of charity.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I wish to associate myself with this protest. I, too, took a great interest in the Bill dealing with the pensions and payments to our soldiers and sailors, and I will say—and I think it will be borne out by the right hon. Gentleman who himself took such a deep interest in the whole question—that rather than press any Amendment that was likely to delay any payment we withheld it, even though in our opinion it would have strengthened the Bill. Whenever we were told that we were in any way likely to endanger or delay these payments we withheld our hands. Now we are told that because of the action of another place the whole matter is going to be hung up for at least two months. I think that is wrong, and there will be real resentment and indignation, especially among the working classes, when they know that the House of Commons was prepared in a day to go through the whole of this Bill, while the other House was prepared to throw the whole matter out. Apparently it is to be thrown -out, and as far as one can gather because they are fighting in order that the element of charity may be strongly maintained in regard to pensions and payments to soldiers and sailors. I submit we have a right to a statement from the representative of the Government as to what they intend to do. The least that can be done 2112 is to insist that this measure be dealt with immediately in another place and that Parliament shall sit one day longer—[HON. MEMBERS: "A week longer!"] Yes, a week longer if need be—as long, in fact, as necessary in order to secure that there shall be no delay in doing justice to the dependants of those fighting at the front. That is the very least we can do. I hope we shall get the response from the Government to-night that whatever another place may do, this matter is going to be settled in the interests of the soldiers before we adjourn for the holidays.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Most of the hon. Members who have taken part in this Debate have been concerned mainly with the position in relation to the Pensions Bill. But the decision taken this afternoon in another place concerns also the position of the Government. In a very eloquent speech on the withdrawal of the Welsh Church (Postponement) Bill to-day the Noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said that since he had taken up his present office he had become more and more impressed by the effect which Debates in this House and in the other House had, not only upon the opinion in this country, but also upon opinion in neutral and enemy countries. To-day for the first time the Government has been defeated, not in the House of Commons, but in the House of Lords. That surely is a very serious position. The hon. Gentleman who has recently joined the Government and whose salary is not on the Votes smiles at the observation. But undoubtedly in the papers which are paid through German agency this will be represented as a defeat of the Government. Since the beginning of the War the Unionist Government has received no rebuff at all equal to this in character. In these circumstances surely we are entitled to some statement of the view the Government takes of the situation. Are they going to introduce a Bill to make more stringent the provisions of the Parliament Act, or are they, as suggested by the hon. and learned Member for North-East Cork, to have a creation of new peers. Either of those contingencies would be welcomed by the majority of this House. At the same time I think the Government must be impressed with the seriousness of the position when, in spite of their accession of strength in another place, in spite of the fact that they have taken into their ranks the Leader of the majority in that other place—in spite of all these things, 2113 the majority of the House of Lords has deliberately rejected the advice of the Government and held up this measure for six or seven weeks.
There is this further aspect of the matter in relation to the fate of the Bill, and that is how long is it going to be held up? The Prime Minister to-day, in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel), said he was not going to reconsider his decision about the length of the Adjournment; but surely, in view of the situation in relation to this Bill, there is cause for reconsideration.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Until this Bill is passed there will be no machinery for granting supplementary allowances to disabled soldiers and supplementary pensions to their dependants. Are the two Houses to be kept adjourned for seven weeks for the convenience of Ministers and of the majority in the two Houses, while those "who are dependent on these supplementary allowances for their subsistence have to wait? Surely this is a case for the Government reconsidering its decision and getting both Houses of Parliament to bring into operation this Bill and so enable pensions and allowances to be paid to the soldiers and sailors and their dependants. I hope there will be some answer from the Government on these points.
§ Mr. GULLAND
In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Mr. King), there is no intention of proceeding with the Indictments Bill at this period of the Session. In regard to the very interesting discussions on the subject of the proceedings in another place, of which we did not have notice—
§ Mr. GULLAND
Obviously, no definite reply can be given to the questions which have been raised, and I can only promise that I shall convey to the Prime Minister a report of the views of hon. Members.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
When the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury conveys to the Prime Minister what has occurred here to-night, I hope that he will at the same time convey to him that all the Members below the Gangway are unanimously of opinion that, when another place has thrown out a Bill for 2114 the benefit of our soldiers and sailors, there ought to be no Adjournment of this House until this question has been dealt with. We are often told from the Front Bench that we here below the Gangway raise questions to the detriment of our soldiers at the front. Who are the people who are doing that now? Are they not the Government themselves, or their followers, or supposed followers, who have done the greatest injustice to our soldiers at the front by refusing to give them what the country unanimously, except in Parliamentary circles, is anxious to provide at the earliest possible moment? The Government descends to methods of fraud, inasmuch as they put on the Vote of Credit salaries, hiding away the salaries of Members of Parliament, without giving the House of Commons any clue. Those salaries for the first time in the history of the House of Commons are not included in the Estimates, and it was only by the merest accident that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) discovered where they were. They have not been put in any straightforward way before the House, and what can the country think of the Government? The only thing the Government appear to do is to vote salaries to themselves and their Friends, whereas at the same time they advise the working man to eat less meat. That is the advice the Government has given to the working classes, while at all points they are wasting the money of the country in extravagance. Now they ask us even to adjourn on Wednesday when another place has thrown out a Bill brought in solely in relief of our gallant soldiers. It will be a scandal of the first magnitude if the Government decides to adjourn on Wednesday after what has happened today. Parliament ought not to adjourn. We ought to sit continuously. The Government ought to reintroduce this Bill in the House of Lords, and to sit until they have a majority in the other House, and bring down their supporters in that House and pass this Bill. The adjournment of this House until this has been done will receive the utmost opposition from all my hon. Friends sitting here, and we will do our best to oppose the Government in view of the attitude they have taken up, and the fact that they have been deceiving us on the Vote of Credit.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
It is a thousand pities that the Debate on the action of 2115 another place should degenerate into an attack upon the Government. I do not feel that way at all. I do not see why the Government is to be blamed for what has been done in another place. It is most regrettable that everything in this House is turned by certain Members into an attack upon the Government. It makes one wonder what their object can be, and whether they really desire to bring about a constitutional crisis in this country.
§ It being half-past Eleven of the clock, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Half after Eleven o'clock.