§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Lieut.-Colonel Kerr.]
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I desire to raise the question of family and dependant allowances and war pensions. The question of the allowances paid to the wives and children of the men who are fighting and the victims of the war is perhaps more important than the question of which we have just disposed. I make no apology for raising it. I think perhaps we have been rather remiss in not raising it before. We have been so concerned with 760 the diplomatic front that we have almost forgotten the home front. There can be no sort of unity in the country side by side with intolerable conditions for the wives and children of the men who are doing the fighting and dying. We cannot expect that soldiers, either at home or abroad, are going to be very happy when they know that their women are to be subject to starvation because of the failure of the Government to do the right thing about separation allowances and pensions. I warn the Minister who is going to reply that it will not be sufficient for him to repeat the statement made by the Minister of Pensions a week ago, that the cost of living in 1919 was so much and the cost of living now is so much less. The Minister must remember that there is a new sense of values in 1939. Men and women all over the country have a great deal more appreciation of the value of a good house and of nutritious food, and they require many 761 things that they did not need in 1919. I would also point out that, although we may halt, although we may stumble and may hesitate here and there, we cannot go back. Yet in connection with the allowances of the wives and children of those who are fighting, the Government are making an attempt to turn the wheel of progress back altogether.
Let us look at the scale of the allowances which are paid. The soldier on the lowest common denominator pay allots to his wife 7s. a week. after which the Government provide 17s. for the wife, 5s. for the first child, 3s. for the second, 2s. for the third and to every other child is. per week. I never thought that I should live long enough to find that the three Service Departments and the Treasury had become the greatest advocates of the Marie Stopes theory. It seems to me that these payments are based on the wish of the Departments and the Treasury to limit the number in a family, since for the fourth and every subsequent child only 1s. a week each is provided. Taking as a normal case a family of a wife and four children, where they have 35s. a week, one notes that in 1917½18 a private soldier had a wage of 1s. 6d. per day. This Government have been more generous, they have given him 2s. a day. But instead of compelling him to make an allotment of 3s. 6d a week, as in the last war, they compel him to make an allotment of 7s. a week. So, after 20 years, the soldier is exactly where he was in 1918. He is still a shilling-a-day soldier. The wife and four children are allowed 35s., whereas in 1917–18 a wife and four children were allowed 34s. 6d.—6d. a week improvement after over 20 years. But for the 3s. 6d. extra allotment paid by the soldier himself, the actual allowance would be 3s. less than in 1917–18. During the course of the last war, separation allowances were increased about four or five times. It was largely due, I think, to outside pressure that the Government were compelled to move.
I am taking the figures for 1917–18 in connection with anything I may have to say. Since 1917–18, it is true, the separation allowance to the wife has been increased from 12s. 6d. to 17s. 6d.; but it is also true that for three children there has been a 5s. 6d. reduction, for four children there has been a 7s. 6d. reduc- 762 tion, and for five children there has been an 8s. 6d. reduction. Every child in a family after the third child has to live on 1s. a week, or slightly less than 2d. a day. Who can justify the provision of an allowance of 1s. a week for a child? With all the Government inquiries, all the British Medical Association discussions, all our knowledge of nutrition, all our desire that people should consume more liquid milk, all our genuine efforts to promote a better physical standard than we have ever had before, the Government step in and offer 1s. per week for each child. If the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Secretary of State for War and the Secretary of State for Air had been trade union leaders they would have been sacked instantly if that was the best that they could get for the subjects they represented in these three service Departments.
How does an average family of a mother and four children get along with 35s.? Every hon. Member knows that rents since 1918 have increased enormously in all parts of the country, and it is customary in any large city to have to pay between 15s. and 22s. 6d. a week rent for a comparatively decent working-class home. In my own mining area, in some districts where all the houses are post-war, and council or colliery company property, the average rent is round about 12s. 6d. a week. In case the right hon. Gentleman should think that I am missing the mark, I am going to quote one or two cases, which are typical of the whole country, showing the increase in rent which has taken place between 1914 and 1939. Here is one case from Car-shalton. The rent in 1914 was 10s. 6d., and to-day the rent is £1 2s. 6d. Another house in the same locality had a pre-war rent of 8s. 6d., and to-day it is £1, and another house a rent of 6s. 6d. and to-day it is 14s. Other houses in the same area, let at 7s. 6d. in 1914, are to-day being let at £1. I could quote other cases, but I think it is sufficient for my purpose to say that all over the country rents of working-class property have increased enormously since the Great War.
Therefore, if I make a modest calculation, which the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) will not deny, I am sure we shall see exactly how the separation allowances really work out. I will not take £1 2s. 6d. or £1 a week for 763 rent, but will deduct only 14s. per week for rent, which, taken from the allowance of 35s. given to the woman and four children, leaves 21s. If you deduct for insurance, coal, light, washing and other materials, a sum of 10s., it leaves 11s. with which to feed, clothe and provide all the essentials and necessities for that family of five. Could any hon. or right hon. Gentleman sitting on the Front Bench opposite spend 11s. so as to feed adequately that mother and her four children? It is beyond the bounds of possibility. When one considers the sum of 2s. 2½d. each per week for food, recreation, clothing, etc., one is prompted to ask what becomes of the Government Report on Nutrition. The nutrition experts suggest a pint and a-half of milk is the minimum that a growing child ought to receive. Think of this woman and four children in terms of milk. If she bought one pint per day for herself and each of her four children, it would cost 11s. 4½d. per week, or actually 4½d. more than she has got. No account is taken of food, apart from that pint of milk, for each member of the family.
These allowances simply will not bear a moment's examination. What is the net result of this position. Women all over the country are obliged to apply to public assistance committees for help. In one town that I know between 20 and 30 applications have been made to the public assistance committee, and in county areas the applications can be counted by the score. I have a letter—I could quote a dozen letters if need be—showing that a wife and her children are being pauperised, while the husband and father is fighting in France, because of the cold and calculated nonchalance on the part of the Government with regard to their needs. Not only are these women having to apply to the Poor Law authorities, but the effect of their doing so is to transfer what should be a national burden to the ratepayers. Milk consumption is bound to be reduced, and nutrition standards will be put into cold storage. There was a seventeenth century poet called Francis Quarles who said:Our God and soldier we alike adore,When at the brink of ruin, not before;After deliverance both alike requited,Our God forgotten and our soldiers slighted.That was bad enough, but in the twentieth century we slight our soldiers 764 while they are actually in the danger zone. We have less appreciation than they apparently had as far back as the seventeenth century. I wish to compare the treatment meted out to the soldier's children with that meted out to other children. Think for a moment in terms of evacuees. The lady who receives them, please note that, receives 8s. 6d. per child per week which is allowed by the Ministry of Health. They can, of course, make the parents of these children make a repayment of 6s. a week, but the Ministry of Health valuation of the needs of the child is 8s. 6d. a week. The Treasury and the three Service Departments value the child at only 1s. per week, and I do not know how they are able to reconcile that situation. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether this is the best that they can do? I recognise that times are not normal and that we cannot afford to throw away money here or anywhere else, but I would ask him what becomes of the standards of the British Medical Association and whether they were given consideration before these figures were produced.
In the West Riding of Yorkshire, if that woman with her four children made an application for public assistance, and the rent of the home was 12s. per week—much less than the figures I have quoted—she would receive 38s. 6d. per week from the public assistance committee, but the right hon. Gentleman or his Department provides only 35s. for the wife whose husband is now fighting. Here are two or three typical cases showing how it works out. Here is a husband, called up with the Territorials, whose earnings previously amounted to £3 15s. per week. His wife now receives 32s. per week for herself and two children, age seven and five respectively. Her rent is 13s. 11d. per week, and she has been in the habit for a long time of paying 4s. per week for insurance. If you deduct the rent and insurance from her income, it leaves 14s. 1d. per week for the three of them for all purposes, food and everything. It simply cannot be done. The Poor Law authorities have granted her 5s. per week public assistance. In another case of a woman with four children, the income is 35s. The wage of the husband before he was called up was 4 guineas per week, and now the mother and the four children have to maintain themselves on 21s. 3d. per 765 week. Here is another case of a mother of six children. Her allowance is 37s. and her rent 15s. 9d. Deduct 15s. 9d. from her allowance of 37s., and there is 21s. 3d. a week to maintain seven persons, or three shillings per week per person for everything. Yet we talk about nutrition and various other things.
I need not quote further cases of the kind, but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of a note that I saw in the "Evening Standard" one day last week about the Canadian allowances. In Canada the wife of a soldier is not allowed a mere 17s. but £1 18s. 10½d., and her child receives not 1s. but 13s. 4d. There is no difference in allowance there, whether the child is the child of a private or the child of an officer. If you take the case of a Canadian soldier and a British soldier the wife with four children would receive in the one case £4 12s. 2½d. while the wife in the other case would receive 35s. I suggest, without piling on the agony, that the Government forthwith should be compelled to provide, first, a rent allowance. Even in the last war they allowed a rent allowance of 3s. 6d. In view of the increases of rent all over the country, in the new postwar property in particular, a rent allowance at once becomes essential. There must also be an increase in the allowances for children, or there will be a hue and cry from every corner of the House.
Now I come to the question of dependants' allowances. Here one sees deterioration in the minds of Ministers. In respect of the last war in the case of a son, unmarried, under 26, the mother could claim an allowance of 5s. a week. Not so on this occasion. Unless the son has contributed to the home up to a certain point there is no allowance made for the mother. She is just forgotten, unless the son happens to be lucky and to enjoy a job with a good wage and his contribution to the home exceeds that certain point. I need not go into the figures for they are well known and I will not waste the time of the House; but let me put this case. Here is a boy of 17½ or 18, and his wages are very small. He can only hand over, perhaps, 16s. or less, because he has not got any more. If that lad had remained at home until he was 19, 20 or 21, obviously his wage would have increased and his contribution to his mother would have increased, and under the means test now applied the 766 boy's contribution to the home would have qualified for an allowance to his dependent mother, father, grandfather, grandmother or whatever the dependant may be. I would ask the Minister whether in the case where the person contributed 16s. or less because his income was so small, in course of time his dependants will be allowed to make any claim for an allowance.
Let me make one observation which may interest the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth. There is one thing in the Regulations on which I compliment the Government, and that is that they have seen fit to deal with the unmarried wife. The unmarried wife who fulfils the conditions laid down in the Regulations or in the White Paper may be more moral, she may be a better mother than many a spinster or many a married woman, and I am amazed at those who would torture the children of the unmarried mother by depriving them of the necessary provision.
It is not the children. It is any young woman who has lived with the man for six months. She may be his mistress.
§ Mr. Williams
I say that the unmarried mother who fulfils the conditions laid down in the White Paper governing these allowances may be as pure, as moral, as domesticated and as deserving as any married mother, and because of that fact, if the father of the children has gone to serve in His Majesty's Forces, the mother of those children and the children themselves ought not to be made to suffer any penalty because the woman does not happen to wear a wedding ring. I compliment the Government on that part of their allowances.
In regard to pensions, the same sort of niggardliness applies as in regard to separation allowances. Under the Warrant of 1919 a disability pension carried £2 for the man, 10s. for the wife, 7s. 6d. for the first child and 6s. for each other child. A man, his wife and four children received £3 15s. 6d. Under the new Warrant of 1939 a man disabled will receive 32s. 6d., the wife 5s., with 5s. each for the first two children, 3s. 4d. for the next two children but nothing for any other children. The income of a 100 per cent. disabled man drops from £3 15s. 6d. 767 under the 1919 Warrant to £2 14s. 2d. under the new Warrant, a reduction of £1 1s. 4d. There is a further stipulation in the Warrant. The wife must be over 40, or she must have a child eligible for allowance, or she must be incapable of self-support, before she qualifies for her allowance. That simply means that a young wife under 40, where there are no children and her husband is totally disabled and receives 32s. 6d. a week, must go out to work in order to help to maintain her crippled husband. That condition ought to be abolished at once. We ought to go back nearer to what obtained under the Warrant of 1919.
Under the Warrant of 1939 the children of a man who has passed away, where the widow is receiving a pension of 15s. 6d.—which is a reduction of 4s. 6d. compared with 1919—qualify for a pension of 5s. per child, whereas under the 1919 Warrant the mother got £1, the first child 10s., the second 7s. 6d., and every other child 6s. There is a terrific reduction in every one of these allowances—in the pension provided for the injured person the allowance for the wife and the allowance for the children. The poet Burns said:Glory is the soldier's prize:The soldier's wealth is honour.The Government are prepared to feed these people on honour and not bread.
Concluding the review of the general situation, this is what we find. Here is Mrs. A, a private's wife, with four children, living in London. For the children she receives 11s., plus her own 17s., plus 7s. allotment, making 35s., from the War Office. Her children are evacuated and billeted on Mrs. B, a private's wife without any children. She receives 34s. board and billeting allowance for the evacuees from the Ministry of Health, plus 17s. wife's allowance and 7s. allotment from the War Office, making 58s. per week from Government sources.
Here is a woman with no children of her own, the wife of a soldier, who receives four children from an evacuation area. She is in exactly the same position as the mother of the children; but, whereas the mother of the children gets 35s., the "mother" who is not the mother gets 58s. from Government 768 sources. Inquiries are made by the Unemployment Assistance Board to discover whether Mrs. A. can make a contribution to the billeting allowances. They ask for 6s. per child, making 24s., but, says Mrs. A.,"I only get us. for them. "Whereupon the Minister of Labour in effect tells the Minister of Health that the Minister for War is paying Mrs. A. such a miserable pittance that it is impossible to recover. Continuing the paradox, Mrs. As husband is totally disabled. From the Ministry of Pensions she receives for her husband 32s. 6d. plus 5s. for herself, plus 5s. for the first child and 5s. for the second child, 3s. 4d. for the third, and nil for the fourth, making £2 10s. for the family and 13s. 4d. for the children. Her husband dies of war wounds, and she then receives 22s. 6d.—4s. 2d. less than under the 1919 warrant—plus 5s. a week for each child under 16, making £1 for her four children. We have therefore the position in which four children of a living soldier are worth to the Minister of Health 34s., to the Services Ministers 11s., to the Minister of Labour trying to recover for the Minister of Health, 24s., and to the Minister of Pensions 13s. 4d. A dead soldier's children are worth to the Minister of Pensions £1. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to justify these anomalies, and also the miserable payments they have allowed for wives and children.
§ Mr. Lawson
On a point of Order. May I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that on this important Debate, perhaps one of the most important matters we shall discuss, there is not a single Cabinet Minister on the Front Bench. That is no reflection on the Financial Secretary to the Treasury or the Minister of Pensions, but I think the Government should have realised that this is one of the most important Debates which may take place. May I ask you what steps we can take to get a Cabinet Minister present.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is not a point of Order, and I have no control over Ministers. Perhaps the hon. Member's protest will have the desired effect.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Amery
I hope that my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench will report to those who can decide these matters the unanswerable case which has just been 769 presented to the House. I do not propose to detain hon. Members by following up what the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has said on the subject of pensions, though I entirely agree with him. I should like to say a word or two on what appears to me to be the utterly preposterous and indefensible scale of children's allowances. I have often addressed the House on the subject of children's allowances in industry, and in doing so I have referred to the fact that when the nation is in danger it pays those who risk their lives for their country not on the same flat rate but takes into account the family needs of each individual. We have accepted the principle of responsibility for the family, and, if so, surely we must accept that principle with some recognition of the proportion of need in each particular case. I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member that this scale could only have been devised by some one who believes that the bringing up of a large family in this country is an anti-social offence. How anybody can suggest that a child, just because it is a fourth or fifth child, can live on less than 2d. a day, fed, clothed and housed, seems to me entirely inconceivable. I gather in the case of pensions that the fourth child is to have nothing at all.
I can imagine someone thinking, someone who does not know anything about conditions in the ordinary homes of this country, that there may be some economy in feeding a number. But, as a matter of fact, the situation is really just the other way about. There is a far stronger case for paying more in proportion to more children than paying less. After all, under any ordinary law of averages, the larger family will include a greater proportion of older children, children who must have more food, who will wear out more clothes. More than that, as the number of the family increases, the problem of rent becomes more serious. Cottages or rooms which were enough for a. young married couple and which might take the first child or two are inadequate when there are four or five children. And when children come of a certain age considerations of decency arise, and it is necessary that the different sexes should sleep apart. All these things mean that with the coming of each additional child, on the average, the cost of the whole family is increased more than numeric- 770 ally. It is a striking recognition of that fact that in countries where they have child allowances, the allowances begin on a lower scale for the first child and progressively increase. That is not due merely to a desire to encourage a larger population but to a simple recognition of the needs of the case.
But why should we go to other countries? The hon. Member has pointed out that we have only to go to another Department. The Services think that 1s. a week is sufficient for the fourth child. The Minister for Home Security or the Minister of Health considers that 6s. is the minimum you can pay for any child. Surely, somehow or other that anomaly must be redressed. I cannot see how my right hon. Friend can put up any colourable defence. We are inevitably laying many burdens on our people. The cost of living is rising, and I trust it will not be made an excuse for the vicious circle of rising costs, rising wages and yet higher costs. At any rate, if increasing burdens are laid let them be laid with some fairness all round. I voted the other day, readily, for the increase in the Sugar Duty believing that all sections of the community have to make some contribution to our sacrifices. But let it be a reasonably equal sacrifice. The Sugar Duty obviously affects the family of five or six more than it does the family of one child. At any rate, once we have accepted the principle of a recognition of the family let us recognise it fully and recast this utterly preposterous and utterly indefensible scale. The scale I would myself adopt might begin at 4s. for the first child, but certainly it would rise to 6s. for later children. At any rate, if the principle of a rising scale is not accepted, let there be a flat rate of 5s. or 6s.
Of course, that would cost money. I am sorry to say it will cost far less than it would if the number of vigorous, healthy families were what it used to be and not what it is to-day. But whatever it costs, surely there is one thing which, even amid the preoccupations and sacrifices of war, we cannot afford to neglect, and that is the nation of the future. We may have to make very heavy sacrifices in this war, the end of which no man can yet foresee. We may lose hundreds of thousands of the flower of our young manhood, the future leaders of this country, in every walk of life. We 771 may be bled so white by war that the standard of living of all of us may be much lower than we have known for generations. All the same, it can all easily be made good within a score of years or so if, after our generation, there is to follow another young generation, sound in body, trained in mind, and disciplined in character. The one thing which we cannot afford to do, even in these days of war, is to neglect the health and upbringing of our children. Let us at any rate cherish the flame of the nation's life on our hearths. If we preserve that, all sacrifices will be worth making. If by those sacrifices we can preserve the future for our children, all may be well, but let us preserve them, in turn, for the future.
§ 7.2 p.m.
The House has listened to two most convincing and eloquent speeches, and it is difficult to see what defence can be offered of the allowances for soldiers' dependants which were described to the House by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). My hon. Friends and I entirely share the view stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Amery) and think that there can be no excuse for the allowances suggested for serving soldiers; but I want for a short time to pass to the other branch of what we are discussing to-day and to say something about the scales for disability pensions. Although they may not be quite so important at the moment, they will become of great significance later on. I want to refer, first, to the scales proposed for disabled soldiers and their dependants, and secondly, to the machinery by which they are expected to establish their claims.
As regards the scales, I and other hon. Members, at Question Time, have already on various occasions challenged the Minister of Pensions to justify the scales contained in the new Royal Warrant. When the Minister has been so challenged, he has always taken refuge in the disparity between the cost of living figures now and those obtaining in 1919, when the last Royal Warrant was drawn up. It is true that there is a difference. The figures are somewhat lower now, and some of the figures in the Royal Warrant represent the approximate equivalent in purchasing power to the pensions given 772 under the Royal Warrant of 1919. But that is by no means true in every case, and in certain cases, even when allowance is made for the difference in the cost of living, there are very substantial cuts in the figures that are now proposed. As to the cost of living, if one takes a mean figure for the year 1919, the cost of living index figure was 219, and on 1st September of this year—that is to say, the figure which obtained when the Royal Warrant was published—it stood at 155. It is now 165. Therefore, the cost of living when the Royal Warrant was drawn up was approximately three-quarters of the figure in 1919.
If hon. Members will look at page 13 of the Royal Warrant and will consider the case of a man with a 100 per cent. disability pension, they will see that such a man, having a wife and four children, under this Royal Warrant will receive 49s. 2d., whereas under the 1919 scale he would have received 75s. 6d. Even if one allows for the cost of living and cuts down the 1919 figure accordingly, one reaches a figure of approximately 55s. as compared with 49s. 2d. under this Royal Warrant. Therefore, even admitting the Minister's argument about the cost of living, it is absolutely impossible to justify the scale of family allowances proposed in the Royal Warrant. I would observe that, of course. the sum of 49s. 2d. is a maximum; however large the family may be, the amount remains at that. If one takes a man having a wife and five children, he will still receive only 49s. 2d., whereas in 1919 he would have received 81s. 6d. The larger the family becomes, the larger becomes the disparity between the 1919 scale and that which is proposed to-day. To take another case, where there is a widower, or a man whose wife is not living with him, but where there are four dependent children, in 1919 he would have received 69s. 6d. Making an allowance for the cost of living figure as at 1st September of this year, he should receive approximately 52s., but he, too, receives 40s. 2d. That is another case where the Minister cannot possibly justify the reduction by reference to the cost of living figures.
I should like now to draw attention to the case of dependent parents. The amount in each case where there is a dependent parent is within the discretion of the Minister, within certain limits laid down in the Royal Warrant; but those 773 limits are very different from what they were in 1919. In 1919, the minimum pension for a dependent parent was 4s. 2d. a week, and the maximum 18s. Under this Royal Warrant, the minimum is 2S. a week and the maximum 10s. This represents a cut of nearly 50 per cent. in the maximum and rather more than 50 per cent. in the minimum. Here again, how can the Minister justify those reductions? Certainly, they represent something far more than the fall in the cost of living during the last 20 years. This is the last remark I want to make about the scale under this Royal Warrant. It is true that in some cases the figures set out here represent, in terms of purchasing power, roughly the equivalent of the scales in 1919. I want to be fair. I think there are one or two cases the Minister can quote in which the figures represent, or did represent last month, a slight improvement in terms of purchasing power on the 1919 scale, but in the three instances which I have quoted, they represent, by any standard, a very serious and substantial reduction. We can only come to the conclusion that whoever drew up the terms of this Royal Warrant was of opinion that the 1919 scales in these instances were too generous. That may be the opinion of the Minister of Pensions, but I do not think it is an opinion which will be shared by the House or the country.
I say, frankly, that I am rather less concerned with the actual scale than with what I may call the machinery clauses of the Warrant. If the cost of living rises, and it has already risen 10 points in the last month, public opinion will no doubt compel an increase in the scale. It is something upon which it is easy to focus opinion in this House and outside. But every hon. Member has had occasion to deal with pension cases arising out of the last war, and we know how difficult it has been for the ex-soldier to establish his claim in a doubtful case. Now it is to be much more difficult under this Warrant. I have been at some pains to compare the terms of this Warrant with those of the 1919 Warrant. There are certain changes and every single one of them is designed—one can only say deliberately designed—to place fresh obstacles in the way of the claimant and make it harder than ever for the injured soldier to get what he is claiming. I do not propose to make that general assertion without proof 774 and I ask the Minister and the House to look at paragraph 5, sub-paragraph (2) of the Warrant. It is one of the most remarkable paragraphs, I think, that has ever appeared in a document of this kind. It reads like this:A disability shall not be certified to be attributable to military service during the war unless there is definite evidence of the wound, injury or disease in contemporary official records or, where such records are not available, there is other definite collateral evidence; and in either case, the evidence is good and sufficient and leaves no doubt in the mind of the certifying medical authority that the disability was in fact attributable to war service.I propose, if the House will allow me, to analyse that paragraph because it seems to me that, if it is allowed to stand, it will be a matter of the greatest importance to those concerned. First, take the part about official records. A man is not to have his pension unless there is definite evidence in the official records. We know how these records are compiled and how easy it is in a record made at a time of war to make some mistake or omission, not as a result of any form of malice but as a result of conditions which must, inevitably, prevail from time to time.
I ask the House to imagine a case in which the doctor who has examined the man and compiled the record has made an error or omitted, through stress of circumstances, to include some relevant factor. The official record will be there but the relevant facts will not be there and in that case, under the terms of this paragraph, the man's claim would be completely sunk. He may be able to call all kinds of other evidence but it will not avail him in any way. Under this paragraph, if the official records are there, he cannot call any other evidence. If the official records are there and there is ho record in them of the man's injury he cannot succeed. It is only in those rare instances where the official records are lost or are not readily available that other evidence can be called in. But that is not the most remarkable part of the paragraph. That pales into insignificance beside the second limb of the paragraph:—in either case the evidence is good and sufficient and leaves no doubt in the mind of the certifying medical authority that the disability was in fact attributable to war service.If that paragraph remains no longer can any Minister of Pensions stand at that Box and say that his Department gives 775 the claimant the benefit of the doubt. Where there is any doubt, the benefit of it must be given to the Department as long as that paragraph remains the law. What is bound to happen. A man is injured in the war. He goes to the Ministry; he has ample evidence to support his claim; he proves his case practically up to the hilt. But at the end of it all, there is some faint shadow or scintilla of doubt left in the mind of the certifying medical authority. He may think it just conceivable that' the man got the injury in some other way than through war service. If that idea crosses the mind of the certifying medical authority, he has no discretion. He is compelled by the terms of the paragraph to decide against the claimant in spite of all the evidence which the claimant can bring. The doctor may be a humane, generously-minded and sympathetic man. It will make no difference. As long as he is carrying out the Warrant, he has to decide against the claimant in any case in which there is the slightest element of doubt.
We shall, no doubt, be told as we are always told, that this Warrant will be sympathetically administered. It is no use putting up that argument to-day. Under this paragraph it will be impossible to have sympathetic administration. That is ruled out completely by the words which I have quoted. It is as rigid a paragraph as anybody could have devised. If the Minister of Pensions and his advisers had set themselves to make it as difficult as they could for an injured man and his dependants, they could not have devised a paragraph more apt to their purpose. I do not think one should mince one's words upon this matter. I fail completely to understand the mentality of the man who could draw up a form of words of this kind. Let it be remembered too, that under this Warrant there is no appeal. Perhaps the Minister will tell us why not. Ever since 1919 a man whose claim has been refused by the Ministry has been entitled to appeal to an independent tribunal. Why is not such a man to be entitled to appeal now? When we were discussing the scheme for dealing with civil injuries and we asked for an appeal, the Minister of Pensions said that when the war came to an end, no doubt an appeal tribunal would be set up. If such a tribunal would be a good thing 776 then, it is a good thing now. If a man is wrongfully refused, is there any reason why he should have to wait until the end of the war before he can get the justice which an appeal tribunal would give him?
I also wish to call attention to the seven-year rule. There are hon. Members whose memories go back further than mine but I can just remember the controversy which there was after the last war about the seven-year rule. There are two forms of seven-year rule in this Warrant. Paragraph 4 states:The claim to a disability award shall be made within seven years fromI confess I have never understood the justification of that. If, with all the difficulties which are put in the way, a man whose injury appeared after seven years, or became more serious after seven years, is able to prove his case I have never understood why this time bar should be opposed to him. It is true that there is a loophole. The Minister can make regulations, but it is difficult to understand why he should proceed in that way and why he should not avail himself of the experience of past years, and wipe out this seven-year bar altogether. There is another seven-year rule which is even more serious. It appears on page 28 of the Warrant. It is the seven-year rule which applies to widows. The terms are set out on which the war widow may get her pension, and the words follow:
whichever be the earlier, except that this condition shall not apply to any claim which fulfils the requirements of any regulations which may be made by the Minister.
- (i) termination of service or,
- (ii) the end of the war,provided always that the soldier's death took place within seven years of the receipt of the wound or injury, or of the first removal from duty on account of the disease which caused or materially hastened his death.Take the case where a soldier is injured. There is no question that he received his injury during the war. He may be drawing 100 per cent. disability pension and he dies seven years and one month after the injury was received. There is no doubt that his death was caused by war wounds, and yet under the provisions of this Royal Warrant his widow is to be deprived of her pension. It is still more remarkable because the seven-year rule applying to widows was considered again and again after the last war. There was a prolonged agitation in the House and the country by all those interested in ex- 777 service men. In the end, in March, 1923, the Government gave way to the general public feeling and considerably modified the seven-year rule. Now, after all our experience, after all the agitation which followed the war, we have the seven-year rule back again as if nothing whatever had happened. One wonders why it was done. Perhaps we may have some explanation from the Minister. Those who framed this Warrant and the Ministers who approved it must have been perfectly well aware of the history of this matter. They must have known of the constant Parliamentary agitation and pressure from 1919 to 1923. One can only conclude that the Ministry of Pensions is rather like the Bourbon kings; they learn nothing and they forget everything.
There is one omission that ought to be explained. In the 1919 Warrant there was a provision to cover the case of the highly paid skilled worker who enlisted and afterwards received a disability pension. If he were able to show that his earnings had been above the average, he was able to receive an additional allowance over and above the normal rates of pension. It is interesting to notice that that provision has completely disappeared from the Warrant of 1939. There are two other examples I would like to give to show the way in which this Warrant has been devised. The first is the case of dependent parents which is dealt with on page 31 of the Warrant. In paragraph 49 are the words:Where a pension or allowance is not in payment under the foregoing articles to or in respect of the widow…the parent or parents of such a soldier may be granted a pension, subject to (3) and (4) below and to such other conditions as the Minister may determine, and provided they are in pecuniary need and there is in whole or in part incapacity of self support.I ask hon. Members to compare that with the 1919 Warrant. The conditions set out in paragraphs (3) and (4) are the same. The requirements about pecuniary need and incapacity of self support are also the same. But these words have been inserted in this Warrant:and to such other conditions as the Minister may determine.We have no sort of idea what conditions the Minister will determine, but why is it that here again something extra is put into the new Warrant simply to make it more difficult? There is, too, the question, in 778 which I gather my Noble Friend the Member for Sutton, Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) is interested, of the position of unmarried wives. They are dealt with on pages 29 and 30. Under the old Warrant an unmarried wife was able to get an allowance if she proved thatshe had been wholly or substantially maintained by the soldier on a permanent bona fide domestic basis.These words have been added in the new Warrant:continuously from a date not less than six months prior to the commencement of the war or to his first employment with the Forces, if later, and was dependent on him at the date of his death.This qualification is entirely new, and I wonder why it has been put in. There may be the case of a woman who has been living with a man as his wife for a long period. She may have borne his children, managed his house, and fulfilled all the conditions she had to fulfill under the old Warrant Suppose, however, that during the six months before the man joined up there was a break, and one of them had gone away on holiday or the man had gone to work for a week or two in another part of the country. Under this Warrant the woman will be deprived of the allowance which would otherwise be due to her. A question was asked to-day of the Minister of Pensions by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), and the Minister made what I thought was a rather remarkable reply. He was asked to issue an explanatory memorandum showing the differences between this Warrant and the Warrant of 1919. I do not wonder that the Minister was rather reluctant to do so, but he made this reply:The alterations introduced both in the general arrangements of this instrument as compared with their predecessor and in the wording of the various provisions have been made in the main with the object of using past experience to improve them throughout in form and in clearness.I should like to say what I think of that reply, but it would be impossible to say it within the limits of Parliamentary language. Again and again, wherever there is a variation between the 1919 Warrant and this Warrant, it is a variation which tells against the injured man and his dependants. It must be obvious to Members in all parts of the House that this Warrant and the similar Order in Council which applies to the Air Force 779 are open to grave objections, and on this occasion no vague or general assurances from the Minister will satisfy the House.
The whole of these documents ought to be thoroughly re-examined. It is not the first time that such an attempt has been made. It happened in the last war as early as November, 1914. There was a document which, in its machinery Clauses, was not open to nearly so many objections as this, but this House set up a Select Committee in order to go into the whole question of the Royal Warrant covering matters of this kind. Is there any reason why the same procedure should not be followed on this occasion? [Interruption.] I am glad to see a Cabinet Minister here at last, although I should be sorry to think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had any responsibility for this Warrant. This is an eminently suitable matter for examination by a Select Committee, and I hope that this suggestion will receive the consideration of the Government. I think it is unnecessary at this time to make any general appeal on behalf of those who are serving in the fighting forces. We are all anxious to deal fairly and justly with those who are taking a combatant part in the war, and with their dependants, but there is no fairness or justice whatsoever in this document which has been put before us by the Ministry of Pensions. It is abundantly clear that the Royal Warrant does no credit either to the Department which drew it up or to any Minister who stands at that box to defend it.
§ 7.31 p.m.
I have never heard a more trenchant Debate than we have had on this subject to-day. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) really made the case for all of us as regards the children's allowance, and I only regret that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not in his seat to hear the speech. I wish to ask the Government what the Committee which was set up to deal with matters pertaining to the home front has been doing. I can understand that the War Cabinet may not have had time for these matters, but I cannot conceive what that Committee have been doing. The differences in the allowances for children are absolutely staggering. We have a soldier's family of four getting 780 only us. a week, and yet the allowance for one evacuated child is 10s. That state of affairs is preposterous. I ask the Government who it is that has drawn up this scale. Has there been no attempt at co-ordination in the matter of the allowances for these children and other children? If there had been a woman somewhere to point out some of the difficulties the Government would not have made these appalling mistakes. A mentally deficient child is allowed 30s. a week, but a soldier's child is allowed only 5s. That is the allowance for the first child, and it is respectively 3s., 2s. and 1s. for the other children.
Nobody knows better than the Financial Secretary to the Treasury—there is a speech of his which I hope my hon. Friends will be able to quote—that no child can live on 1s. a week. Therefore, I hope that some change will be made, and made quickly. I have a bunch of letters on the subject from women all over the country, not only from my own constituency. Some people suggest that they should go to the public assistance committees. Many soldiers' and sailors' wives will not seek public assistance. They are selling their things rather than do so. They will not do it. It is not everybody who runs to public assistance—there are very few, I am glad to say—but it is all very tragic.
There is another tragic matter which I wish to mention. I do not want to be hard on the woman who has been living with a soldier for a long time but, on account perhaps of some difference in religion, or for one reason or another, cannot marry him. Nobody wants her children to suffer. But that is quite a different thing from stating in the Royal Warrant that any woman who has lived with a soldier for six months before he joined the Forces is to have the same status and the same allowance as a married woman. I do not believe the House of Commons wants that. I cannot believe it. I am certain that the women in the country do not want it. It is hard enough to keep young men straight in any case, and this is going to make it quite impossible. We shall find all sorts of people getting hold of these young men and living with them for six months and then demanding the marriage allowance. I have put this matter before the soldiers and sailors in my own constituency, and 781 before the married women and the unmarried women, and I am sure that we are making a great mistake. I do not believe the Government have considered the matter from that point of view.
It has been said, "If we do not give the allowance what will the girl do?" I say that if a girl lives with a man for six months when she can marry him and does not marry him, she is the sort of girl who will manage somehow. A provision of this sort is not going to help young men or young women either. Such cases are different from the hard cases which were brought forward in the last war, cases in which for some reason the parties could not marry. There was a case the other day in which a man with a wife and children had left them and gone off to live with another woman and put her down to receive his allowance. We cannot afford to do things like that. I hope the Minister will reconsider the position in that light. The present proposal shocks one profoundly; it is not in accord with our way of life. We do not want to be hard on anybody, but this is really too strong. It is carrying pity a little too far. It is weakening the moral fibre of the young men and young women.
I do not expect everything from the Government and we really cannot get equality. Everyone knows that one woman will make 10s. go as far as £2 or £3 goes with another woman. There will be cases in which one man will bring home £10 a week and next door to him will be living the wife of a soldier or sailor who is getting only 37s. a week. That is not equality, and we cannot do anything about it, but what we can do is to see that the children of our soldiers and sailors get enough to live upon, and I hope and pray that the Government will do something about it. I repeat there is no question of equality. Some men go gladly to serve their country, some go sadly and some do not go at all. We all know the difficulties, and we know that we shall not get everything that we want, but all sections of people in the country feel strongly about the inadequacy? of the allowances to children. The Government cannot dodge the issue. The House will not let them, and the country will not let them. I hope the Minister will realise that this is no party question, but that this demand represents the feeling of all sections in the country that 782 even in a war women and children should come first.
§ 7.38 p.m.
There has been a remarkable unanimity in the speeches from all parts of the House to-night in protest against the inadequate allowances for the wives and children of the men in the armed Forces. We all feel that those inadequate allowances constitute a national scandal and are an evasion of our binding obligation to the dependants of the men in the fighting forces. I have been very much interested in the questions on this subject put from day to day in this House since the war started. I have formed the opinion that the Government spokesmen were determined to stifle discussion or criticism, judging by their evasive answers, and I am glad that my party have brought this question to the Floor of the House, because I am certain that the country is desirous of giving fair play and justice to the dependants of those who are "doing their bit."
The British Medical Association, which is representative of modern medical science, stated some time ago that the least that anyone could spend each week on food capable of preserving bodily fitness is 6s. 9,d. a week. Can the soldier's wife spend that on her children? Can she preserve or build up bodily fitness on her inadequate allowance? If she has four children and gives them three meals a day, she has to do it on 1—d. per head per meal—6d. per day for four growing children—because you can cut out the wife's allowance, which is swallowed up in house rent, in coal, in lighting and all the other incidental expenses of the home. These facts and figures leave nothing for boots or clothing for any member of the family.
A striking commentary on these inadequate allowances is the appeals that are being made, publicly and privately, for cast-off clothing for the dependants of men serving in the Forces. A question was put the other day by an hon. Member opposite asking the Minister of Labour to encourage the women of the country to spend money on millinery and clothing so as to provide employment in the millinery and dressmaking trade, and a supplementary question asked the Minister whether he thought the soldier's wife, with her inadequate allowance, could afford' new frocks or new hats. The reply was 783 that the soldier's wife was a marvellous woman. I had a letter from a soldier's wife who referred to that remark. She accused the Minister of playing to the gallery, and she wants to know whether any wife of any Cabinet Minister is as marvellous as the Government would like these soldiers' wives to be with this impossible task imposed upon them. I feel that, if only some Cabinet Minister had asked his wife to try out this experiment of keeping children on the allowance that they expect the soldier's wife to keep hers on, we might have had a very different state of affairs.
I want also to support the plea of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). We have heard a lot for some time past about the declining birth rate, but it seems to me that large families are always penalised. One would think it was a crime to have four children. Very often the Government are penalising the fourth child of the soldier, because they allow only 1s. a week for the fourth, fifth or sixth child. Yet the fourth, fifth or sixth child is as dear to the heart of the mother as the first, second or third, and the fourth, fifth or sixth child needs food and clothing and costs as much to keep. Soldiers' wives are now dependent on charity, and they are having a great struggle, because we have seen the same thing happening to-day as has happened in every previous war. We have seen an increased cost of living.
The public conscience was shocked when an eminent economist published a book which drew attention to the serious malnutrition of the people. I refer to Sir John Orr, who estimated that 10s. per head on food weekly was necessary to preserve health. He pointed out that there were 4,500,000 of our people who had only 4s. a head a week to spend on food, and half the persons in that group are children under 14—between a fourth and a fifth of the total number of the children in the country. We all know that lack of suitable food leads to ill-health, bad physique, tubercular and infectious diseases and pneumonia, and we have often heard it stated that the supreme need of a child, particularly in the early years of its life, is good nutrition. I want to ask again if the soldier's wife can give her children good food on the semi-starvation rate of the Govern- 784 ment. Perhaps after the war Sir John Orr will write another book which will show the results of the criminal action of the Government in sowing the seeds of disease in our future citizens. It is a costly blunder, and it will be a costly burden on the State.
We used to see placards and advertisements, "Drink more milk," "Eat more fish," "Eat more fruit." What an insult to soldiers' wives. They have to face privation at home, hiding the facts from their men folk so as not to upset them. When the facts are known to the men in the Forces, it will create discontent and uneasiness, because the average Tommy wants comfort for his wife and bairns and security for his home. Reference has been made to the example of Canada where they have equality for all, whether the children of colonels or of privates. I put a question some time ago asking if the Government would consider the institution of a rent allowance. In the last war I was interested in the work of a committee which helped people with their rent, and that seems to me to be the right policy to pursue in regard to this question. Rent tribunals should be established to regulate payments, and the courts would have power to break, disclaim and modify these according to circumstances.
There are thousands of working class people in my constituency who have been forced to go to building societies to obtain homes. I was consulted by the wife of a soldier as to her position in regard to the repayments on her mortgage. I advised. her to offer the society, a well known one, to repay interest charges. She forwarded me the reply from the society, which clearly proved that our womenfolk are being harried in regard to these repayments. She was asked to fill in a questionnaire giving the most intimate details about her family, her income and the allowances she got from her husband and sailor son. They refused to consider the question of repayment until she filled in this questionnaire. We have been told, in answer to questions, that serving soldiers also have access to the Military Service Special Allowances Advisory Committee. One of my constituents carried on work in the last war through the Soldiers and Sailors' Association. She is doing the same work to-day. She has advised soldiers' wives 785 to inform their husbands that they ought to apply to their commanding officers for particulars or for the necessary form in regard to these special allowance committees. She informs me that in every case the commanding officer knows nothing whatever about the subject. I have also seen a letter which my hon. Friend the Member for the Cannock Division (Mr. Adamson) has received from a constituent where the Employment Exchange advised a soldier's wife to get her husband to apply for a particular form. When an application was made, the commanding officer said that he knew nothing about the matter. It seems to me that it is no use advising the soldiers wives to make this special application or to get their husbands to do so, when the commanding officers know nothing about the matter.
Remarkable things are happening to the wives of our soldiers. An hon. Friend told me that he was consulted by a soldier's wife. She was the mother of 10 children, and because her allowance had not come 'through he advised her to go to the Employment Exchange. She did so, and after they had taken particulars of her case they actually asked her whether she wanted a job. They failed to realise that the woman had a jolly good job looking after 10 children and a still worse job, since the war started, trying to make ends meet on the miserable allowance which the Government give her. We must try and face facts, and the Government should increase these allowances and be more in harmony with the realities of life. The Government cannot justify these rates and unless something is done I am afraid there will be trouble among the soldiers and the public. No money can compensate a woman for the loss of her husband's company and of his help in the struggle and battle of life. We have to see that the soldier's wife is freed from worry, and that she can face the day-to-day struggle and keep the home fires burning until peace returns. I therefore hone that, as a result of this Debate, we shall have an assurance that the allowances will be altered and brought more into line with the demands for a civilised life for the women and children affected.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Captain Crookshank)
I think it will be convenient if I say a few words now. 786 There are two main points to this Debate: Service allowances, and questions of the Royal Warrant. The latter points will be dealt with by my hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions. The House will realise that the question of Army allowances is one of the greatest importance. Hon. Members have expressed themselves very freely, and perhaps it is as well that I should put before them one or two considerations which the Debate makes me think they have overlooked. The general proposition applies pretty well to the Navy and to the Royal Air Force, and if I use the word "Army" in this case it is only because it was used by the hon. Member who opened the Debate.
I would ask the House to cast its mind back on this question of Army allowances and dependants and family allowances to the Army scales of pay. On 10th March, last year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War came down here and announced increases which the Government then proposed. He put them before the House very clearly. It will be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT that he explained these family allowances, giving the actual figures which have been discussed to-day, and that he was in a position to say:It is a great satisfaction to feel that the soldier will have in future some addition to the means at his disposal, but it is an equally great satisfaction- to anticipate that the Army wives who share with the soldiers the vicissitudes of a calling which requires many and frequent adaptations to new and unaccustomed circumstances, will now receive the wherewithal to make better provision for their homes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1938; col. 2148, Vol. 332.]Those are the words which my right hon. Friend used. There was not a word of criticism of the rates during the Debate. The Leader of the Liberal Opposition said that no part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech had been so universally welcomed as that in which he had promised those improvements.
§ Captain Crookshank
May I make my speech in my own way? These increases were universally welcomed by the House and not a word of criticism was raised then or at any other time, except by questions in recent weeks. I am putting the background which I want hon. Members to bear in mind in this connection. What was more, as soon as my right hon. 787 Friend announced that the increase was at that time for soldiers of 26 years of age and upwards, from every quarter of the House came a demand, not that he should alter the rates or the allowances for children, but that he should reduce the age from 26 to 20. Hon. Members appeared to consider the rates desirable in themselves. Indeed the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger)—[Interruption.] This is something which was discussed in this House for a whole year and everybody agreed with it, like the hon. Member for Bassetlaw. On the Army Estimates this year he urged that the then age of 26 should be reduced to 20. He said:We all welcome the efforts which the right hon. Gentleman has made in the past to increase the scale of pay for serving soldiers. He has shown courage and foresight in that respect, and I appeal to him to tackle the question of the married soldiers under 26 in the same enlightened manner as that in which he has dealt with the scales of pay and other conditions of the serving soldier who may not be married."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1939; col. 264, Vol. 345.][Interruption.] I am merely putting the historical picture. The scales which were announced at that time did not apply to soldiers under 26 years of age, and pressure was brought from all quarters of the House, not that my right hon. Friend should change the scales but that he should reduce the age at which soldiers became eligible. Most fortunately, His Majesty's Government were able to do that. That was done with regard to the Regular Army in time of peace. Again I stress that no one questioned the scales or spoke about 1s. for fourth and subsequent children. I have made every effort, but I can find no trace of any criticism at that time of that point, and I want to put it upon record.
§ Captain Crookshank
The next stage of the picture is the introduction of compulsory service and the calling up of the Militia. The case put by the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate of a wife and four children would not be the "normal" case. I very much doubt whether that is the right adjective to apply to a family consisting of a wife and four children.
§ Captain Crookshank
I do not know what that is, but certainly the hon. Gentleman said "normal family," and I took the expression in the general sense. That is not the normal family at all, but is abnormal, even among hon. Gentlemen on the opposite Front Bench. If all parents produced such fine representatives as sit there, there would be another story. I was just saying that the next issue in the historical background was that of Militia training, and these circumstances cannot in the very nature of things arise frequently there. I would like to remind the House what we did, because it still applies. I would refresh the memories of hon. Members by referring them to the White Paper No. 6043 which was published in June. In it hon. Members will find that attention was given to hardship and difficulties which might arise in the case of militiamen. The Service Ministers set up a committee known as the Military Service (Special Allowances) Advisory Committee to consider applications for special monetary assistance to those who, notwithstanding the special protection and so on, might be adversely affected as militiamen. That committee exists now. It is also true to say that we have had comparatively few cases to deal with.
§ Mr. George Griffiths
Does the right hon. Gentleman say that dependants of the men who are called up to-day to serve in the Militia can get assistance? If he does, I wish to state that I know of a case—
§ Captain Crookshank
I can only continue my speech in the way I want to, step by step; it then becomes less repetitive than it otherwise would be. When the Militia training was started, apart from other matters which were dealt with by Orders-in-Council, this Special Advisory Committee was set up to deal with a variety of matters, and in the White Paper the various grounds on which grants for assistance can be obtained are to be found. That brings the matter up to date. Then you have the outbreak of war. Arrangements were made, first of all for the Regular Army after March, 1938, and again this year in the case of the younger men under 26; secondly, arrangements were made 789 for dealing with the Militia, and so far as I can ascertain they were satisfactory on this issue. With the outbreak of war we had the embodiment of the Territoria.1 Army and the calling up of Reservists, and it is there I feel sure that all these cases which have been instanced by hon. Members have arisen. It is there, and not in previous categories to which I have referred. There have been cases such as the one which was mentioned by an hon. Member where a man, who earned £3 or £4 a week, went into the Territorial Army and was then no longer in receipt of that money. I think that is the kind of case which is causing difficulty at the moment. Here again, the committee to which I have referred would deal with any such cases which are brought to its attention. The Special Allowances Advisory Committee, which was set up to deal with Militia cases, is of course, empowered to deal with any other such cases as may be sent to it; that is the answer to the hon. Gentleman. That is one thing to be remembered.
The other thing to be remembered, and which I do not think has been fully appreciated, is this. Hon. Members have stated that the result of what they call these low allowances has been to drive some of the wives on to the Poor Law, thereby adding to the burden on the local authorities. At the beginning of September we passed a great deal of legislation, and I am not surprised that some hon. Members are not quite familiar with the details of all of it. One of the Acts which was passed enables the Minister of Labour to make regulations by which the scope of the allowances which are paid by the Unemployment Assistance Board could be widened to other cases than to persons who are merely unemployed. In point of fact, under those regulations the Unemployment Assistance Board is empowered to, and does, administer a Government organised scheme for relieving distress, not as a result of unemployment but, as is provided by the first Clause of the Act which is called the Unemployment Assistance (Emergency Powers) Act, 1939, for the purpose of preventing or relieving distress arising from the war. The Minister may make regulations to extend the class of persons to whom an allowance may be made, being such persons who are in distress as a result of circumstances caused by the war. If, as the result of these circumstances, there was some distress in 790 a home which might in ordinary circumstances have made a person think she ought to go to the Poor Law she could go to the Unemployment Assistance Board to get temporary relief and therefore the cost would not fall on the local authority. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is that the way to run a war?"] I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's remark. It is doing it—[An HON. MEMBER: "It is not doing it at all."] I trust that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate what I was trying to say.
It has been said that it the case of temporary distress the person would have to go to the Poor Law and that consequently there would be a charge on the local authority. The Unemployment Assistance Board has been given a different function; this new function has nothing to do with unemployment assistance at all, but it has been given in order to help distress and to give relief which could be made a temporary arrangement until the hardship committee which has already been referred to could take that specific case into account. That is the machinery which has been envisaged as I see it.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Surely the right hon. Gentleman must appreciate that although the Unemployment Assistance Board can supplement any case where assistance or hardship has accrued as a result of circumstances arising out of the war over which a family has no control, that was purely intended to be a temporary tide-over. In fact, experience has so far been that public assistance committees all over the country have had to receive applications from wives whose husbands are in the Forces because the relief was insufficient to meet their outgoings. I agree that the Unemployment Assistance Board is different to anything which has existed before, but it does not quite dispose of the inadequacy.
§ Captain Crookshank
I think I can dispose of the question which was raised about the cost to the Poor Law Authorities and the burden on the rates, because there is this machinery which can be used. If in a particular case the allowance is insufficient that would be a reason for taking the matter to the hardship committee.
§ Mr. Buchanan
How would you like to be badgered from one Government Department to another? How would 791 you, if you were a woman with three young children, like to be chased about like that?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is making a speech. I think it would be just as well to listen to it.
§ Captain Crookshank
I hope the hon. Gentleman will always say that about my speeches in this House. When there is a case of hardship for some particular reason—and after all each case is different; there is no average this or average that—that case can go to the hardship committee; and, temporarily, there is this machinery, quite outside the Poor Law or the local rates, of the Unemployment Assistance Board, helping in cases where there is distress as a result of circumstances caused by the war.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
Has the Military Service Special Allowances Advisory Committee been set up, and have the application forms which have been asked for by the soldiers been given to the men?
§ Captain Crookshank
The answer is that it has been set up, and I understand that a certain number of cases have been before it.
§ Mr. T. Smith
Why should the Minister put forward the argument that this special allowances tribunal can be used if it is not in existence and he has no information as to the extent to which it can relieve distress? Some of us have been very anxious in the last few weeks to find out all about this committee.
§ Captain Crookshank
I can only say that it does exist. Mr. Charles Doughty is the chairman. The forms have to be applied for through the Command paymasters. If the machinery is not quite clear to the men, it will be made clear in the documents which have to be filled up. I hope that that disposes of that point.
§ Mr. Lawson
It is quite true that this committee has been sitting, and has dealt with certain cases, but it has dealt with fewer than 3,000 cases.
§ Captain Crookshank
I am very glad to get corroboration. It is correct that they have dealt with some 3,000 cases. I now turn to a small point which the Noble Lady made, with regard to the "unmarried wife." I am sorry that the Noble Lady is not here, but she will no doubt have my reply reported to her. That decision was come to after a very great deal of consideration, and in view of the experience gained in the last war. In the case of the "unmarried wife" receiving an allowance, it has to be established, of course, that for six months she has been living with and dependent upon the soldier, so that, as near as may be the case, it is established that, although not married, she has been as though married to him.
§ Captain Crookshank
Yes. Experience from the war of 1914 showed that to be the most convenient period to select for this purpose.
§ Captain Crookshank
Having put the background of these allowances, and having shown that there has been no criticism until now of these rates, and having also explained the procedure for cases of special hardship, I will just say this about the allowances. They have, of course, received very careful consideration. These allowances as a whole were not suddenly produced the first day war started, because, as I have already reminded hon. Members, they have been in force for the Army since the spring of last year.
§ Captain Crookshank
There are arrangements by which the cost of living is taken into account. Generally speaking, while it is quite easy, as I have observed, to pick out one item and say, "Is that not a preposterous thing to say 793 about a child?" or "Is that not a preposterous thing to say about someone else?" if you consider what the scales were in the Great War you will see startling differences. Far more is allowed to the wife than was before. At no time during the Great War was the wife's allowance greater than 12s. 6d. On this occasion the balance, if you like, has been tilted. The wife may start by getting more, and the fifth, sixth or subsequent children may get less. Taking the average family, not the abnormal one—when we get into the range of the sixth or seventh children we are getting to the abnormal case—[Interruption.] I do not mean that unkindly.
§ Captain Crookshank
I was saying that the average family under these arrangements is better off than during the previous war—a great deal better off. I have taken the trouble to acquaint myself with the figures for 1914, 1915 and for each year up to 1918, and that is the answer I have to give to the House.
§ Captain Crookshank
The House can take it from me that we have carefully considered these cases. They have not been dealt with in a hurry. The allowances compare favourably with those for the last war, except in the case of the very large families.
Let me now deal in that connection with the point made of the relationship between the allowances which are given for these children and the allowances which are given to persons who are billeting evacuated children. The point has been made here to-day, and it has been made outside—I have seen references to it on many occasions—that these allowances for soldiers' children do not seem to be in the same street as those which are paid for billeting children. The figures. of course, are different—I do not disguise that fact—but so are the circumstances. I do not think that hon. Gentlemen and members of the public appreciate that, in the amount which was arranged for the billeting of children, we had to take into account various con- 794 siderations which do not at all apply to a person looking after his own children. I do not speak from personal experience, but I believe that to be the case. When people are suddenly forced—it was not a case of being forced because so many of our fellow citizens volunteered for this very public duty of looking after evacuated children—or if they volunteer, (and in certain cases they may have been compelled or in future they may have to be compelled, one does not know), to receive into the household children of whom they know nothing, about whose habits and tastes they know very little, possibly because it is many years since they had anything to do with children, the Government have to take into account something more than what might be considered the ordinary scale of feeding, or what would have been a reasonable consideration in the case of people looking after their own children.
§ Mr. Hubert Beaumont
Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman now suggesting therefore that the people who are looking after evacuated children are making a handsome profit out of it?
§ Captain Crookshank
I have never suggested anything of the kind. I cannot imagine anybody making that deduction from what I have said. All I have said is that there is a difference in the allowance which is made on the one hand to the household for having in its midst, whether voluntary or otherwise, other people's children in possibly a household where there have not been children for many years, or possibly never been children, and on the other hand the allowances it would be reasonable to give to a parent for her own children living in the house. It is not a figure which can be assessed in shillings or pence, and no one has attempted to do it on those lines, but in a wide review of the situation with regard to the evacuation of children the Government thought it was necessary to add something for that element in the money which was to be paid to the people for looking after evacuated children. That is my answer, whether it is welcomed or not, to hon. Gentlemen opposite for the sum cause of the difference between the case of the children who were evacuated and the case of people who were looking after their own children. I think on the 795 whole whether hon. Gentlemen opposite approve of this or not, it is a case, as a great many people will appreciate, that has considerable force, and it is one I want to put before the House in order that hon. Members may see we were actuated by reasonable motives in this matter and have not acted in a haphazard way. I have made the point that I intended to make. If there is any suggestion that having children in your house does not involve a certain amount of anxiety in looking after them, all I can say is that the experience we have had from all over the country shows that there is over the whole field a degree of such anxiety.
Finally, I would say that these scales of allowance, which have caused so much debate already, and I have no doubt will cause a good deal more, have been in force for the last 18 months and longer in the Army, without any kind of criticism. Hon. Members opposite urged that they should be extended to other classes in the Army than those to whom they were orignally applied in 1938; this has been done. Special precautions have been taken to try and deal with any hardships and difficulties which may emerge under the machinery that I have tried to explain. This is the first time that the matter has been discussed in Parliament, which is the mirror of the nation. It is here that hon. Members come to state their views, and it would be very foolish on the part of the Government or of any Minister, having heard a debate for two hours, to come forward and say there is or is not need for an alteration or revision. I am not going to say anything of the kind. What has been said by hon. Members will be carefully considered. Parliament is the right place in which to voice grievances and hon. Members are justified in giving expression to them, but they must not be under any misapprehension. These scales and all the other scales with which we were concerned at the outbreak of war have been most carefully considered for a long time and they have not been rashly introduced.
§ 8.27 p.m.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is a very able speaker, but I think everybody must agree that he knew he had a completely indefensible case. He said, rightly, that Parliament 796 is the mirror of the nation. I prophesy that these scales—we need not get angry about them—simply cannot stand. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has not said a word really to justify them. He has said in effect that when they were brought before the House the House did not remonstrate. I am Sorry that we were caught napping, but may I remind him that there is a difference between the circumstances now and the circumstances then? There was no war then and no conscription. In peace time the serving soldier choose his job, knowing the conditions of that job and sometimes repenting when he realised the position to which he had condemned his wife. The right hon. Gentleman has not told us how many wives of serving soldiers have had to apply to the public assistance authorities for allowances.
Let us look at these allowances on their merits. I will not repeat what other speakers have said. They have made the point, which is completely unanswerable and which the Financial Secretary has not attempted to answer, that the scales laid down are scales on which the ordinary soldier cannot maintain his children in health on any accepted standard, however low. Figures have been worked out very carefully by a committee of which I happen to be chairman, and they show an extraordinary discrepancy between these scales and the unemployment assistance scales. What is more important is the gap which exists between the amount of the scale and the basic needs of a family of three or four or more children. Very wisely the right hon. and gallant Gentleman shirked that issue. He knows that a child cannot be kept on 1s. a week. Sir John Orr's book, very widely read, shows that one-quarter of the child population of this country is, in normal times, living on an income of 10s. per head per week for all purposes, and that out of that sum the average expenditure on food is not more than 4s. 2d. per child. He also points out that when we are spending 4s. 2d. on food alone it is not possible to provide a diet which is adequate in any of the normal constituents of a healthy diet. If you cannot keep a child on food alone at 4s. per week, how can you keep a child on 1s. per week? I will not labour the point because it is so self-evident and needs no emphasis.
797 I want to make one claim. I doubt whether there is an hon. Member who has had as long an experience as I have of these matters. During the Great War, from the first week of the war until the Army was demobilised, I was the head of a very large service association in Liverpool. It is true that separation allowances in the Great War began by being a good deal lower than these rates, but there was such bitter discontent felt throughout the country that in 1915, or the early days of 1916, the separation allowances had to be substantially raised. The Government may think that they will not be forced by clamour to raise the separation allowances now as they have conscription and can force soldiers to go, but make no mistake about it, there is a feeling throughout the country, which will grow as the casualty lists grow and bring home the situation to our people, which will mean that they will not endure these scales of allowances. Do not wait to be forced by an ugly kind of clamour; do not let a feeling of bitter dissatisfaction spread.
The second point I want to put is this. I do not think that I have fully mastered this complicated machinery, how you are to get an emergency allowance from the Unemployment Assistance Board, then referred to the Hardships Committee and then to the Special Allowances Committee. It sounds as if we were proposing to work on some small scale of about 3,000 cases, which was mentioned by an hon. Member. I hope the Government will realise that if these committees are to operate, they will be operating on many thousands of cases. During the last war whenever a man enlisted his wife got the separation allowance, after great delay, on a flat rate scale which was roughly analogous to the scales of to-day, but she did not rest content with that if her husband had been in any sort of position before the war. She came to the Soldiers Families' Association, which acted almost as a Government Department, told us what her husband's pre-war wages were and the amount of rent she had to pay. I have assessed literally thousands of cases myself, and our job was, by recommending a supplementary separation allowance, to bring up the position of the soldier's wife to something equivalent to what it was before her husband enlisted. There was a sort of upper limit. The flat-rate separation allowance had to be brought up, in effect, to something that was practically' equiva- 798 lent to the pre-war position of the wife. I could tell the House many stories illustrating the difficulties we had in making assessments, but I will not take up the time of the House, as many hon. Members wish to speak. It was not an easy job, and in one town alone we were dealing with thousands of cases in the first three months of the war.
The other method of supplementing separation allowances was by means of the Civil Liabilities Committee, which also came under the purview of the organisation of which I was the head. Under this, the thing taken into account was not so much the man's pre-war wages, but whether he had civil liabilities, such as a rent higher than the average, furniture or a motor bicycle on the hire purchase system, and so on. In such cases special allowances were made. I do not say that even in those days the system worked very smoothly; it was a difficult job and it took a long time to get the machinery working, but roughly speaking, the position of the wife of a serving soldier was brought up to something that was roughly equivalent to her pre-war position. I do not quite see how it will be possible to do that with the present complicated machinery. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman continually used the expression "temporary cases of distress"; but the cases where it is necessary to supplement these preposterous flat-rate scales are not cases of temporary distress, except in the sense that we hope the duration of the war will be short. It is a question of distress that will last the whole period of the war.
May I, in conclusion, suggest two things? These flat-rate scales, even in cases where the wife was in a pretty poor position before the war, have to be raised. Whatever wage a man was getting before the war, he was not risking his life every hour of the day, as he is now; and he was not serving his country as he is serving it now. He has to be put in a position which is decently comparable, not to the job of a crossing sweeper or a man on the very lowest type of unskilled labour, but a man doing an honourable job and deserving the kind of pay which a skilled workman doing a dangerous job gets in a civilian occupation. The flat-rate scales have got to be raised. Secondly, there must be, as in the last war, something in the nature of a much more 799 quickly moving and more localised machinery for supplementing the flat-rate scale, if we are to keep the 1914–18 idea that the soldier's wife ought not to be any worse off because her husband is risking his life than she would be if he had stayed at home.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Butcher
I think the House will have recognised that up to now no hon. Member has lightened the task of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in defending these scales, and I regret that I also must decline to help him. I and my hon. Friends who think with me urge upon the Financial Secretary and those associated with him the most serious and careful reconsideration of these rates. I must congratulate my right hon. and gallant Friend on a most good tempered and lucid speech. He said very truly that Parliament is the mirror of the nation, and I venture to think that the dissatisfaction which has been shown in this Debate to-night will be reflected throughout the country in the days that lie ahead. He made the point—perfectly fairly— that there was no criticism of these scales until the outbreak of war. But the people who were previously subject to the scales were regular soldiers who had entered into military service with an opportunity of examining the scales beforehand. Secondly, the same scales were applied to militiamen aged 20 to 21, and this House knew that the number of married men in that age group was comparatively small. Even had there been more of them, they were liable only for military training for six months, and the House was of opinion that the Special Allowances Advisory Committee would meet any cases of hardship.
What is the position now? Since the outbreak of war the Territorial Army has been embodied and the Reserve has been called up. Men of the older age group will be registering on Saturday and normally there will be a larger proportion of married men in their ranks. These scales will not meet the needs of those men or their dependants. I appreciate the Financial Secretary's point that in cases of hardship there are means of redress. Application can be made to the Special Allowances Advisory Committee,.and, of course, there is the immemorial 800 right of resort to the Poor Law and there is this new special provision to relieve distress occasioned by the war, through the machinery of the Unemployment Assistance Board. All these means are good, but the very fact that they exist for assisting the dependants of the soldier is significant of the fact that the Government were not satisfied that the scales, by themselves, were adequate but felt that they had to be reinforced in this way.
We have been told that these scales were the subject of careful consideration. The House is entitled to know who gave that consideration. Was there any consultation with such national organisations as the British Legion or the Women's Institutes? We are living in an age when the workers, organised in their trade unions, and the employers organised in their federations, meet together for consultation and conference. These scales will affect the lives and the homes of all the men who are called up for service, and as each age group is called up the number of men on whom hardship is likely to fall will become greater. Where then and with whom was the consultation on these scales or on the Royal Warrant? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) spoke very properly of the need in these days for preserving the young life of our country. I would not disagree with anything he said except his suggestion that it was cheaper to feed the younger children than the older children. My experience is that the younger child requires even more nourishment and more special expenditure than the older child.
These scales, under which less is provided for the third child than for the first, do not meet the requirements of the ordinary man and woman. The men affected by them are being taken away from civilian employment where they have been earning the ordinary wages. They are entitled to expect that the home in which they have been living and for which they are probably paying instalments to a building society, shall be maintained in a proper condition. There should be no decline in the standard of living and the standard of food on their tables. Why should a man go home on leave and find that his wife has been put to the most appalling straits to manage on these allowances? Let us bear in mind that this country cannot afford to squander its money on excessive profits 801 to shipbuilders and munition manufacturers, but it is not so poor that it cannot afford to make a reasonably decent allowance to the women and children on whom this civilisation will depend when the war has been won. Let us never forget that the German Army and nation in the last war gave way and crumpled not because they were defeated in the field but because of the distressing letters that were received from home as to the lack of nourishment for the women and children. There is no fear of the same thing happening here, but we must strengthen the resolve of our people by making the woman at home feel that the country recognises the services which her husband is performing and that it is prepared to take care of her up to a reasonable standard of decency and comfort. We must also give the man at the front the assurance that his wife and family are not so very far removed in comfort from the scale in which he maintained them when he was in civil life, and that should anything happen to him by disability or death the country will be generous to them.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Smith
I have listened to the Financial Secretary in this House during the last six years, and I do not think I have ever listened to him with more anger than I have done to-night. I do not remember him ever being so hard-up for arguments as he was in his reply. We shall not let the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and the Government get away with a reply like that. When he talks about 10th March, 1938, when there was no opposition in the House to the proposals for improving the position of the soldier and his wife, he must remember that the Government at that time were trying to make the Army more attractive. It is a historical fact that the soldier, both in peace-time and in war-time, has always been badly paid. Recruits were not coming up as quickly as the Government thought they ought, with the result that they tried to make the Army more attractive. We accepted the improvements on the principle that it was better to get as much as we could if we could not get as much as we believed we were entitled to get. Is there not a difference between the 10th March and to-day, when there is compulsory service and a war?
The soldier to-day is not like the soldier in the time of the Crimean war when he was told, "His not to reason why." The 802 soldier to-day is beginning to ask questions, and I want the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and particularly the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to believe me when I say that I have during the past 10 days had one or two soldiers to see me before they went somewhere else. One man, a good soldier, said, "I am almost worried to death. I do not mind hardships and the danger of service, for I am used to them." I know from close contact with him in mining that he never shirks danger. "But," he said, "when I remember that I am now 8s. 9d. a week worse off than when I was on the means test, I think I have something to complain about." He told me he had an allowance of 17s. for his wife, and, with his own payment of 7s., she received a total of 24s. He got nothing for his daughter because she was more than 14—she was earning nothing—although he got an allowance from the Unemployment Assistance Board. "When," he said, "out of 24s. there is 14s. 6d. rent and rates to be paid, do you think I can go away without being anxious about what will happen at home?
In another case a soldier who met me asked, "What about these allowances? What are you doing in the House to try to get them improved?" I told him of the difficulties and what we intended to do. He said, "I can stand a good deal, but take it from me I am not prepared to stand these allowances too long." The right hon. and gallant Member referred to the Special Allowances Advisory Committee. He knows that that was not set up to be a kind of general board of guardians The public assistance committees are for that purpose. It was intended to deal with certain cases of exceptional hardship. When the right hon. and gallant Gentleman told us that although thousands of men have been called up less than 3,000 cases have been dealt with by the Special Committee, and then admitted that he could not say how they had been dealt with, I think he is begging the question. I want the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who represents a Yorkshire constituency, to keep this in mind. He knows that in the previous war many widows and other poor people went hungry rather than pauperise themselves. They were afraid of it. I spent 10 years among them and I know a little bit about it. There are soldiers' wives to-day who 803 dread going to the public assistance committees or to the Unemployment Assistance Board. It is something to which they have never been used. They are girls from good families, hard-working people, and they dread the idea of going before the Poor Law authorities. Why should it be necessary for them to go to the U.A.B. or any other body? Would it not be better to make the scales adequate and let the women have sufficient to enable them to maintain something like a decent standard of life?
I wish the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), who dealt with the case of the unmarried mothers, had been here. Had she been here I would have told her a few home truths, because Members on these benches have been brought into contact with, I suppose, thousands more of those cases than she has. I would say to her, "Do not moralise too much." The lad in the Army to-day is not the "dud" that some people imagine and he is not going to link up his life with a woman and live with her for six months for the purpose of enabling her to draw an allowance. At least, there will not be any number of our soldiers who will do that. People who talk in that way almost make me sick. I am with them all along the line if they will try to get an adequate allowance for those who are doing the fighting. The soldier is in a different position from the industrial worker, who can agitate for better conditions, who can threaten—yet—to withhold his labour in order to get his grievances remedied. The soldier cannot do anything like that without incurring very grave risks.
There are in the country a quiet but a determined lot of people who want to see this war go to victory. At the same time we have to remember that we have a duty to perform. We are prepared to pat these boys on the back during the war and after the war, but we have to remember that this is a matter in which a show of patriotism is not enough. I plead with the Government to be big enough to say that they will reconsider the question of allowances in all its phases, and come forward in the near future with more adequate allowances. If they do so they will be doing the right thing from many points of view. I understand that the 804 Minister of Pensions is going to deal with the new Royal Warrant. He will recall that in 1922, the first normal election after the Great War, these benches were filled more by Labour Members than at any other time. One of the big factors in that campaign was the way the Coalition Government were treating the men who had fought in the Great War. In every constituency there were cases in which public opinion cried out at the shameful treatment meted out to them. There were cases of men selling things in the street and men who had to go begging from door to door. In the first speech that I made in 1922 I pleaded for better treatment for those who had fought the country's battles.
This new Royal Warrant, in which you reduce the figure for a private from 40s. to 32s. 6d. for total disablement, is just not good enough—32s. 6d., 5s. for the wife and 3s. 4d. for a child for 100 per cent. disability in a war of the kind that we are going through is not the right way to treat them. I do not believe in indulging in threats but I remember the Armistice and what followed it in 1918, 1919 and 1920. I remember the great wave that went through the country that, now that the war was over, there had to be a period of reconstruction. We had to make a world "fit for heroes to live in." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) knows that I could quote against him on that point some of his own speeches and what was held out to those who had gone through the war and those who had provided munitions. There was a time in 1919 and towards 1920 when the industrial workers were on the point of revolt to such an extent that the powers that be were a bit anxious. When men come back from a war 100 per cent. disabled and you give less than 50s. as a maximus, irrespective of the number of children, that is not quite the treatment that they are entitled to.
I have a great regard for Dominion opinion and I am proud that Canada is giving such excellent treatment to its soldiers and to those who are left behind. I remember what Australia and New Zealand are doing. It ought not to be a question of cost. It does not matter what is the price of the munitions which are necessary to win the war. We have to remember the human factor. We have to remember the men who use those muni- 805 tions. I hope the Government will be big enough to say they will reconsider this Royal Warrant and let the lads who are doing the fighting, and those they leave behind, know that the House is prepared to give them something like justice and a square deal.
§ 9.0 p.m.
I am certain it is the desire of the country that generous treatment shall be given to all the men in the fighting Services. My right hon. and gallant Friend made a very fluent and able speech, but I do not think there was a single hon. Member in the Chamber who agreed with him. I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day how many schemes have been put up for the benefit of officers and men from the Service Departments and turned down by the Treasury. The Chancellor's reply was that he could not justify the expenditure of time on giving me my answer. It was, of course, a very diplomatic reply, but from it I assumed that a great many schemes have been put up which have been turned down by the Treasury. I have come to the conclusion, after long discussions with men in all the Services, that a great many schemes which they put forward, and which they or their Departments think are justified, are turned down by the Treasury. I regret that I was not able to get the information for which I asked.
I agree with all the statements that have been made by so many hon. Members this afternoon. The Government will be very ill-advised not to reconsider the scales which have been put forward. There are people in this House and in the country who will say that at this time no supporter of the Government should stand up and criticise the Government. I never took that view. I expect the Government which I support to be generous and to do the righthing, and I will be no party to giving them my support when I think I am not justified in doing so. I will go further and say that I am quite prepared in my constituency to defend everything that I may say against the Government this afternoon. I am certain that my constituency would be behind me. That is a very big thing to say, but I am quite certain that it is the truth.
Now I want to turn to one or two perhaps smaller points, but they illustrate the bigger question about which we have been 806 talking. I want to refer to the Royal Warrant and the scales which have been laid down for disablement pensions. In 1935, I fought a long battle with the War Office over the case of a young man who was serving in the Regular Army. He received an injury and was invalided from the Army without pension. After a battle of six months, I was able to prove, with the assistance of the best-known specialists in the country, that the young man's injury had been caused by his service in the Army. He certainly was not a case which would be put in the category of total disablement under war conditions; he was a partial disablement case, if you put him in his proper category to-day. I was successful in getting a pension of 30s. a week for that young man, and I was extremely glad and proud that I was able to do so.
It was in 1935. When I look at the scales put down for partial disablement cases in the present Royal Warrant I find that that young man would be getting a pension of only 19s. 6d. a week. If the War Office can pay 30s. a week in 1935 to a partial disablement case, why, in present circumstances, should they be able to pay only 19s. 6d.? I will fight this particular question of the Royal Warrant with all the power I have. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Divisions?"] I am not afraid of the Division Lobby, because I know that if one indulges in criticism of the Government there is nothing that the country likes less than people who talk and have not the courage to act. I am, therefore, weighing my words very carefully to-night.
There is another point to which I would like to draw attention. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War this afternoon thought that he was giving a very effective reply to the question of the delay in the payment of separation allowances when he said that now there were only roughly 2 per cent. of the claims for separation allowances which had not been settled. Surely my right hon. Friend must have realised that one is not so easily taken in. The war has now been going on for seven weeks or more, and there has been a great deal of pressure put upon the War Office and on the Air Ministry, and the cases have been reduced week by week. I should have liked my 807 right hon. Friend to state how many cases had not been met last week, the week before, last month and right back to the beginning of the war. I imagine—and I say it with very great respect—that my right hon. Friend also rather attempted to put me in my place when he complained that I was always raising issues and complaining about cases and laying emphasis on them. That kind of thing does not worry me in the slightest degree. If it did, I should not have the honour of representing my constituency in Parliament.
I would like to quote one letter which refers to a woman who has a court order of 12s. against her husband. The letter is written by the regimental paymaster, I have no doubt a young lieutenant. In quoting this case, I do not wish to suggest that he has not done what is absolutely right in writing this letter; I am certain that he is a very brilliant soldier. The point is that very often a lieutenant acting as a regimental paymaster has had no experience of the standard on which a woman who has a 12s. court order against her husband has to live, and I am certain that when he wrote this letter he did not appreciate how anxious she would be when she received it. I do not need to read the whole letter, but I wish to read this one sentence:The court order has been received in this office and has been sent to another department for completion of certain formalities before payment is made to the court collecting office This will be started at some date in the near futureThere is not a word as to how the woman was to carry on temporarily until her claim was settled. I suggest it is for the War Office to inform regimental paymasters that when they write letters of this kind they must remember that they are writing to people who know nothing about the formalities and do not know where to turn for assistance. When my right hon. and gallant Friend makes his speech about the Unemployment Assistance Board, I object to the wives of serving men having to go from pillar to post to see where they can get their additional allowances to carry them over for temporary periods of time.
Another point to which I wish to draw attention is that in big areas there are unemployment committees; in big areas there are Soldiers' and Sailors' Families' 808 Associations—and I should like to pay tribute to all those people who help in giving advice to families of serving men on their requirements and their needs. But in very scattered areas there are no Soldiers' and Sailors' Families' Associations and no unemployment assistance committees. A woman who is temporarily short of money because her allowance has not come through may be eight miles away from the unemployment assistance committee, and may have no money to pay her fare. It is true that if they ask her to go down they will pay her fare, but she does not know that. You can imagine the position of a woman over the week-end in such a case.
It seems to me, after examination—and again I am weighing my words—that the serving men and officers are at a disadvantage against civilians. I feel that the civilian can very well have his battle fought, whereas the serving men and their officers are not in so favourable a position. There is far too much cheeseparing over the serving men. The first position was that they were given 3s. a day subsistence allowance. Then it was found that when they were living at home they ought to have rations, and rations were given to them. It was then found that some of the men were so scattered that it was not a practicable proposition to give them rations. As I understand, they are to be given less than was originally given, to the tune of 6d. a day. That kind of thing will not do. Speaking now as a supporter of the Government, which I consider has done magnificent work for this country and the Empire, I beg them to believe that, as so many speakers have said, the people of this country want fair and generous treatment for our serving soldiers, and I call upon the Government, in my small way, with my small voice, to see that those who defend the Government in the country have the proper material with which to defend and advocate their cause.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I will not detain the House more than a few moments, because I feel that nearly everything that could be said on this subject has been said. From some aspects I should not have intervened, because I almost feel, as an opponent of this war, that the propaganda in favour of ending the war 809 would become stronger the worse the people were treated. But I want to reply to the Financial Secretary. He treated this matter flippantly, he treated it very cheaply, and made no attempt to answer three very well reasoned speeches: one from the Labour Front Bench, one from an ex-Cabinet Minister, and one from the junior Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot). I propose to try to meet one or two points that he did make. First, in trying to defend what seemed to me incapable of defence, namely, the graduated scale, he said, "There are very few families that consist of five or six persons, and we are dealing with the normal family." I thought that that was the strongest argument, in some respects, for increasing the amount.
If it be true that there are very few of the families about which the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and others spoke, the cost would be so small that the allowances ought to be increased almost at once. The Minister of Pensions knows as well as I do that, if you pay IDS. to the wife and so much in respect of the first, second and third child, and then 1s. for each subsequent child, it is the total allowance that matters. It is nonsense to talk about allowing 1s. for the last child. If the Government came to the conclusion that 2S. is sufficient for a child, then they should make it a flat allowance, as it is the family income that matters and not the present foolish way of making it up. When a man earning £3 or £4 a week as an engineer, or a larger sum as a teacher, solicitor or doctor, hands over money to his wife he does not say that there is so much in respect of Tommy, who is 14, and so much less for Billy, who is four. He simply hands over the money and it is divided among the family for their maintenance. There may be one week when Billy might need 10s. and the other boy only 5s., and the following week their needs might be reversed. It is no excuse making allowances like this.
Reference has been made to the necessity of having to go to the Unemployment Assistance Board. May I put this to hon. Members on this side of the House particularly? When Mr. A, Mr. B and Mr. C serve as soldiers, they all do the jobs they are asked to do, and are in the same position as engineers, who get the standard rate. Why should Mr. So-and- 810 so, who goes to the committee over which Mr. Charles Doughty presides, be paid more than the wife of anybody else who is doing the same job? The husband's allowance ought to be the same. This nonsense that they ought to go before a committee to get augmentation means that if augmentation is granted it is an admission that some soldier in the field is valued more than another soldier. I take the view that every soldier, once he enlists, is entitled to get, apart from Mr. Charles Doughty or anybody else, his reward for the service he renders.
I remember when we were all condemning the means test. How does the means test apply now? Take a man who has a few savings. I have some savings. No one needs to be ashamed of being careful. I come from a Scottish stock that taught me to save. Take the case of a man who is in the Army and who may have £200 in a co-operative society. That is not a vast sum, but it can be taken into account. What right have the Government to treat the serving soldier in that way? You do not do it in connection with unemployment insurance in fixing a man's standard benefit. You do not care what savings he has. It is only when you come to unemployment assistance that you do it, because you say that has a Poor Law connection. Why should you apply it to the serving soldier? You say to him, "Before you can get enough for your wife and family we shall take into account any miserable savings that you may have had before you went away." I confess, frankly, that I am staggered.
I do not think that this war is nearly as popular as the 1914 war. I may be wrong in that view. In any event, I should have thought that any Government with a sense of decency would at least have made an effort to see that, whatever happens, no charge of meanness could be made against them in regard to these allowances. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury made only one effective point. He said that these scales when they were announced in March, 1938, were not criticised by Members of Parliament. That is no argument. At best all that it proves is that we were remiss in our duties and that the thing slipped hrough, but it would not defend the scales. It would not prove that they were anything like adequate. I remem- 811 ber that when we were denouncing the sums allowed for children under the unemployment scheme the right hon. and gallant Member was a good critic. Everybody who wants a job on the Front Bench starts by being a good critic, but not too good a critic; otherwise he ends in disaster. He then said that the scale for children was inadequate under the unemployment scheme. The scales for children in operation for this war are inadequate compared with 1914. Is this House going to take the standard of life of 1914 as the standard for all time? Are we not to think that in the last 25 years there have been natural aspirations for a higher standard of life, and is not that standard to apply to the soldier in the field and his dependants?
The second reply is this: Everybody knows that the cost of living has increased. The cost of travelling has gone up, because houses have become more scattered. The City of Glasgow is not the same as it was in 1914. In many respects it is as different as night is to day, and, therefore, even if you can show a little miserable improvement on the rates of 1914 it does not allow for the normal and decent development which every human being has a right to expect in that time. The scales are totally inadequate. I want to say a word about the machinery, because everyone will agree that even if you make the amount £10 or £5 a week, it is important that the machinery should be there in order to see that the man gets the amount. For some. years I have tried to hammer out this question of machinery without much support in the House. What is the position now? Take the position of a serving soldier before war broke out. His position was terrible. Take two cases which I have already put before the Government. Both are serving soldiers, one of them has been in the Army for 13 years, and is a sergeant. He dies in China. Along comes the Minister and says that he did not die as the result of Army service. I do not know, and neither does the right hon. and gallant Member. All I know is that he died, and no one is going to tell me that the change of climate did not have an effect on his health.
What happens? A body called the Chelsea Commissioners come along. I have been trying for 17 long years to 812 find one of them, and the nearest I have got is that I have been referred to some of the old men one meets outside Chelsea Barracks. Really, who are the Chelsea Commissioners? Nobody knows. The truth is that nobody bothered over much about them as the number of soldiers was small; he was inarticulate and he did not attend political meetings. But the Chelsea Commissioners decide, and then I write and ask whether I can make a personal appearance before them. Even if it is a criminal being tried for murder he has a right to argue his case. I asked whether I could come and bring a lawyer, whether I could come myself and plead before them, whether I could bring evidence; but the answer was "No"—there were no rights and no appeal. They decided, and that ended the matter. I say frankly, treat the women and the men badly if you care so to do, but at least have the honour and decency to lift the children above the battle. You talk about your honour. I was born not far from the poorest of the poor, but I was taught that you at least had real feeling for the children. You have no right to take a decision without giving such an ex-soldier every chance of stating his case.
What had he in the last war? Before his case was refused, the soldier was supplied with a full document regarding his case, all the hospitals he had been in, and all the things that were wrong with him. Then he had the advantage that with this document in his hands he could go to other medical men, prepare to meet the case, and produce his counter evidence before a tribunal that was presided over by a lawyer. Let me say here that I have never been against lawyers and the men acting as chairmen of tribunals. I would sooner have a good legal mind than almost any other mind to deal with these matters. There was a lawyer. and alongside him a medical man, and a member of the British Legion. Before such a tribunal, the man argued his case; often he won, often he lost; but before he lost, there was at least the semblance of a decent trial of the case before it was rejected. To-day, all that has gone. It went before this war broke out. Such a thing would never be done in other walks of life, in civil life. It is not done in workmen' s compensation cases, much as the workmen's compensation is maligned; nor is it done in civil disputes. One hon. 813 Member spoke about facing the constituencies. This is the only thing on which the country is united. There is only one thing to be done, and it is to give decent people decent incomes for what services they can render.
In the past, the Minister of Pensions and I have joined hands together in struggles for what we thought was justice for poor people. I give him this credit, that in the days when we fought together on unemployment insurance he was a doughty friend and a good help in struggling to raise the standards of the poor. To-day he holds this great office, and I warn him that if he goes on with this he will earn for himself the worst reputation that a man can have. I will tell him what it is. It is not doing a thing wrongly, but hanging on to office when he has done wrong. That is the worst reputation a man can get, and in his case it is one which I hope he will not get. I have been in the House many years, and I have seen nothing but disappointment and the breaking of men in whom I believed. If the right hon. Gentleman does this, it will be only one more case of the breaking of a man who, I used to think, despite his views, might render a great service to the poor.
§ 9.35 P.m.
§ Mrs. Tate
This afternoon in this House we have heard of the numbers of those who have been bereaved as a result of the disaster to one of the great ships of our Navy. I am sorry from the bottom of my heart that in this House this afternoon we have also had to hear the speech which was delivered by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. To-day, in this land, after six weeks of a war which has not yet really begun, there are many hundreds of homes bereaved and many hundreds of men have lost their lives or are suffering from wounds. I regret the Government's attitude on this question of allowances. I regret this indefensible Royal Warrant. I would like to refer to the very eloquent speech which has just been made by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and to the points which were made by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) with such clarity earlier in the Debate. If this Warrant is allowed to remain,—and God grant that it will not be—it will be much more difficult in the future for a man to prove that his injuries were attributable to war ser- 814 vice. There is not one of us who have served in this House who have not had experience of cases in which we knew ourselves that a man's disability was due to his service and yet found it impossible to prove his claim. After this war, if this Warrant stands, such cases will be multiplied by the thousand and there will be no possibility of redress. I would draw the attention of the House and the Minister to paragraph 37 of the Warrant dealing with medical expenses. It states:Any necessary charges, fees or expenses in respect of the treatment of the disablement through war service of a member of the Military Forces, not otherwise provided for, may be defrayed by the Minister under such conditions and up to such amount as he may determine, but no such charges, fees or expenses shall be payable in respect of any treatment in the home of a member of the Military Forces after the end of the war.Does the House realise what that paragraph will mean in hundreds of homes? Have we not memories of cases which had to be treated for months and months in the home, involving the provision of expensive bandages, medicines and drugs? Has the Minister observed the appalling increase already in the price of drugs in this country since the beginning of the war? If this paragraph remains, not one penny will be recoverable by any man in respect of treatment in his own home one day after the war ends. If this is a document which, as we are told, has been drawn up after very careful consideration—well, I prefer not to give expression to my view of it.
I would mention one more point on which I know the House is not agreed. The hon. Member who opened the Debate for the Opposition does not, I am aware, agree with me on this point. He said he was glad that the Government were giving allowances to those whom he described as the unmarried mothers. I hope the House will believe me when I say that I am in no way seeking to judge the unmarried mother. God forbid that I should set myself up to judge any man or any woman, but I do say that if you think you are doing a service to the young men and the young women of the country in this way, I believe it is a grave mistake. If a man just over 20—which is very young—has been keeping a woman to whom he is not married, for some six months before enlistment, and if you allow her to draw the same allowance as a wife, 815 then I do not think you are helping either the man or the girl.
I am not just setting up myself as a moralist. I am not looking at it only from that point of view. We have, however, certain laws and certain moral standards. If the Government wish to subsidise concubines and bastards let them say so, but I wonder whether they really feel confident that the taxpayer is behind them. It is no good the Minister saying that they were doing it because of the experience in the last war. There are hundreds of cases where the most admirable women are living with men to whom they have been far better than many wives for a great number of years and whose children they have borne. That is a different case, but one cannot put that forward in the case of a youth a little over 20 and a girl who has been living with him for six months.
§ Mrs. Tate
I am giving the answer in my own way. The hon. Member may not like it, but he will have to "lump" it. I certainly should not start at the age of 20, and I would say that they would have to be together for a great deal more than six months. If there were children as a result of the union, I would be the first to say that the State should make allowance for them. The days when a child can suffer for what its parents did will never be over, because the child has to pay in many respects for the sins of its parents, but at least do not let us stigmatise the child for what it had no power to prevent. I would not let the child suffer, but to give an allowance to a woman who is not married, who has been living with a mere child, a boy just over 20, on the same basis as that of a wife is wrong and will not have the support of the country.
I would like to ask the Minister this question. Take a case of a married man having left his wife and the wife having a maintenance order against the man, who is living with another woman by whom he may have children. She may be a 816 better wife than the original wife, but we are not here to judge. Which of these women will get the allowance? On page 21 of this deplorable document we find that the allowance for a wife or a woman living with the disabled man as his wife may be in certain circumstances £25 a year. Who will get the allowance—the wife who has the maintenance order against the man and whom he. has an obligation to support, or the woman with whom he has found it pleasanter to live? That is a point which will have to be considered. The hon. Gentleman opposite said that the woman who was living with a man as his wife was no less good because she had not been married. I am sure he will be the first to say that a wife who has been deserted is perhaps no less good because she has been left high and dry with no one to fend for her and often with children to support.
It would not behove a woman to sit down without saying a word on the subject of the children's allowances. It seemed to me ironical that the Minister who had to get up and defend these allowances to-day should be the man who said these words in 1933. On that occasion the present Financial Secretary to the Treasury was moving an Amendment to increase the allowance for an unemployed man's child from 2s. to 3s., and he said:Most people who have been in touch with the condition of the people who are out of work to-day would say that the greatest need of the moment is the need for raising the amount payable for children.I am very well aware that the case might be made to-day that at that time the unemployed man's wife was getting only 9s. and that each child—if the right hon. and gallant Member's Amendment had been successful—would have been receiving 3s., and that now the wife is getting 24s., with 5s. for the first child, 3s. for the second, 2s. for the next and 1s. each for any of the remaining children. The shilling is such a ludicrous allowance that I do not know how anyone dare write it down. At any rate that answer would be no answer. How often have we been told that scales of unemployment pay are designed to tide over the short period of time between falling out of work and the renewal of employment? How often have we been told that people in that position have, perhaps, accumulated savings on which they can live? Are we to grind the 817 wives and children of our fighting men down to the subsistence allowance which we defended only on the ground that it was for a waiting period and subsistence for an unemployed man? The Government cannot do this thing. It is quite impossible. They have not had support from one Member on their own side, there is not a living being in this country who could get up and defend these indefensible rates, and if the Government have one ounce of sense left, let alone any other quality, they will tell us that they will reconsider these scales.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Kingsley Griffith
If this House be indeed the mirror of the nation it has been giving rather a wry reflection to the Front Bench this afternoon. I have never heard such a universal volume of indignant protest on any subject. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has been fairly faithfully dealt with by Members, on his own side especially, and I want to devote myself to the Royal Warrant, with which the Minister of Pensions is concerned. I think the Minister of Pensions himself laid down the right way in which he should approach this problem when dealing with the Personal Injuries Bill. He then said:I want to be in a position where the House trusts me to carry on in a generous and proper way without being tied hand and foot by legal quibbles."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd September, 1939; col. 340, Vol. 351.]That was the object to set before himself on a very solemn date indeed, Sunday, 3rd September of this year. By this Royal Warrant he has done precisely what he sought to avoid on the other Bill. He has tied himself hand and foot, if not by legal quibbles yet by the wording of the Royal Warrant itself. I hope that the Minister of Pensions, if he reads in the OFFICIAL REPORT the speeches made in this Debate, will form a different view of the Royal Warrant, particularly of paragraph 5, from that which he has formed at the present moment, because I venture to say to him, with all respect, that if he has read paragraph 5, sub-section (2), of the Royal Warrant he has not apprehended its meaning. That may be a serious thing to say, but I am going upon the answer which he gave to the hon. and learned Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt). to question 74 to-day. The question did little but set out the actual words of the Royal Warrant itself and asked 818 whether the Minister would arrange that every soldier had a copy, to which the Minister answered:I understand that the Royal Warrant in its complete form is to be issued with Army Orders. I cannot accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's interpretation of Article 5, which will be construed in a liberal spirit in the light of the expert guidance which will be given by medical officers of very great experience and will ensure that no material evidence in support of the claim is excluded from consideration.That answer contains two unintentional misstatements. It is not possible for the Minister to construe Article 5 in a liberal spirit because it gives him no discretion. It says:and in either case the evidence is good and sufficient and leaves no doubt in the mind of the certifying medical authority that the disability was in fact attributable to war service.If the Minister is going to ignore the words of the Warrant by some sweet reasonableness of his own, well and good; we need not worry about the Warrant any more. But one has to presume that he is governed by the Warrant and, if the slightest shade of doubt is to be a disqualification for the applicant, any question of construing it in a liberal spirit goes by the board. The Minister has handled hundreds of cases. He knows as well as I do that you cannot get medical evidence with an old case, a case where the disability arises or gets worse many years after war. A conscientious doctor will say, "The present condition of the man is consistent with its having been caused by his war injury. In fact I think it is very likely that it was, but I cannot certify that it is impossible that some intervening cause has come in and affected the matter." You will never get your medical evidence closer than that, except in some very exceptional case where you have shrapnel actually working itself out. In cases which are not as obvious as that there is always a doubt, and the Minister is now bound by that doubt and he cannot give the benefit of the doubt. I come then to the other misstatement:will ensure that no material evidence in support of the claim is excluded from consideration.But he is bound by the Warrant to exclude material evidence from consideration, because the words are:where such records are not available there is other definite collateral evidence.819 Only "where such records are not available." If contemporary official records are available and are defective, or there is not a complete history of the case, the Minister is bound by those records, whatever their defects may be, and he is not entitled in those cases to take other collateral evidence, however good it may be. Really I form some hope out of the answer given by the Minister to my hon. and learned Friend. He must realise now that when he answered that question he answered it all wrong. Therefore, when he comes back and reads the words of the Royal Warrant again, and finds out what it really does bind him to, I am sure it will be a considerable shock to him and that he will then try to put the matter right.
Heaven knows, it has been hard enough to prove cases in the old days, when the Ministry claimed proudly that they were giving applicants the benefit of the doubt, but there is so much against the applicant. He is not always given the full medical facts of his case by the Ministry. The information that they have they withhold from him. I have in my possession a case in which the Ministry have for eight years, withheld essential medical facts of a man's case from the man himself, from his solicitor, from myself as Member of Parliament acting on his behalf and, what is more remarkable, even from the First Commissioner of Works who was then acting as Minister of Pensions. I am prepared to prove that by publishing the correspondence.
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
Would the hon. Member kindly state how much pension the man has got all the time? One hundred per cent.
§ Mr. Griffith
The Minister is again wrong. The man has not received 100 per cent. all the time. For the last four years he was getting nothing. During those years the Ministry have consistently refused to pay. As to whether or not he is medically entitled to pension now at the full rate is a matter which can be proved only by medical evidence. The point to which I was calling the hon. Gentleman's attention was the concealment of facts for eight years from everybody connected with the case, including the last 820 Minister of Pensions. If these difficulties existed under the old warrant in its comparatively easy form and if those things were done in the green tree, what may we expect in the dry? We have this new Warrant, altered in every respect, as was shown by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) to the detriment of the applicants. I know that the Minister comes comparatively fresh to this job, but he is a man in whom I should like to feel the very greatest confidence because of his great experience and his magnificent record in dealing with pensions cases. I am sure that when he re-examines the matter he will find that there is a great deal which has to be put right. You could not make a worse start in a war than to have an uneasy suspicion in the minds of those who are going to serve that, if misfortune should be theirs, they will receive less justice than their predecessors in the last great struggle.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Lawson
I am extremely sorry that it has been my lot to cut out quite a large number of speakers in this Debate, but I ought to give notice at once, on the authority of the Leader of the Opposition, that this Debate has been so unsatisfactory from the point of view of the House and of the dependants of soldiers that we shall take the earliest opportunity of raising the matter in a whole day's Debate and in conditions when the whole House can express itself in the matter.
§ Mr. Lawson
It would be only a moderate statement to say that this has been a very bad day for the Government. From the beginning of the Debate until the end not a single speech from that side of the House has not been an attack upon the Government's policy in this matter. Indeed, as I have heard the speeches illustrating the various Warrants and reports I have asked myself, from what I know of the officers, how the Government have come to blunder into such a position as that in which they are to-day in these matters. It is almost inconceivable. It would be almost true to say from one angle that the best speech against Government policy in this matter was made by the right hon. 821 Gentleman who spoke for the Government. Can you imagine that at this time of day in the twentieth century the Financial Secretary to the Treasury should say, "If these payments are so bad for the dependants they can always fall back upon the Unemployment Assistance Board"—another kind of Poor Law—or, as he says," They can go back to the Special Allowances Committee"—an obscure body which deals with a microscopic number of cases concerning conditions which have nothing to do with the average case concerning a soldier?
I asked a question to-day upon this matter on what is known as the Civil Liabilities Committee. Everybody knows that the old Civil Liabilities Committee in the last war, which dealt with the same things as those which are dealt with by the Advisory Committee, was a remote and obscure body that had little to do with the average soldier at all. The Government know that quite well; otherwise they would not have set up a Committee of this kind. I do not wish to criticise the gentlemen concerned, but nobody knows in the main who they are. I myself know one, and that is Mr. Doughty, K.C.; he is the chairman. It is no reflection upon that committee to say that its members are not known to the public, but no private soldier would think of having any contact with a committee of that kind at all. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that he met the case when he said that the Secretary of State for War had informed the House what these allowances were going to be and that there was no protest against them. This is what the Secretary of State for War said on 10th March of last year:We propose to give an increased allowance amounting to 17s. a week in respect of a wife to married soldiers above the age of 26 years…To this allowance falls to be added children's allowance—5s. 6d. for the first child, 3s. 6d. for the second child"—and not 1s. for the others, but—and lower rates in respect of each additional child."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1938; col. 2147, Vol. 332.]That means that the Secretary of State for War did not announce what the rate would be in this particular case. The difficulty to-day has been that we have been discussing three separate items. We have dealt with the allowances for the soldier, his wife and children, we have 822 been dealing in a vague, misty kind of way with the allowances for the soldier's mother or father, although few people have touched upon it because nobody knows anything about it, and we have also been dealing with pensions. The House cannot deal adequately with those matters. It is evident that the Govern-men have underrated this problem, from the very fact that, as I pointed out earlier, no Cabinet Minister has been put up to deal with it. Surely the Government must have some knowledge of the strong feeling on the question. It is a matter that cannot be allowed to drift, because of its effect not only upon the home front but on the soldiers themselves.
I dare say there are some in this House who in the last war were in the same position as I was. My wife got 12s. 6d. and the allowances for children. Mine was a grim life but a healthy one in some ways, and I was strong enough and did not mind it. There was nothing that I dreaded more, that pained me more, not even the enemy, than the effect of those small allowances on my wife. Nothing made me more indignant than the knowledge that came to me that my wife had had to go into the potato fields to work in order to keep the children. Great masses of men have willingly gone into the Army. There are not even some of the reservations that there were in the last war. The Government say that it is their policy to break Hitlerism, but let them not forget that it is the men who are going to get these allowances who are going to break Hitlerism. If resentment against these allowances gets a grip on the soldiers it will be worth more than a good many victories to the enemy, and in the long run it will work great evil to this nation. I plead with those on that bench to carry to the Members of the Cabinet an account of the indignation which has been expressed in this Rouse to-day, and which represents the country's feeling. If notice is not taken of that it will work evil on our prospects in the great cause in which we are engaged.
There is another matter to which I want to refer. I am astounded that the Government should repeat the old seven years' limit in the Royal Warrant. I remember standing here after the last war, about 1920, and being something like a lone voice in protesting against that seven years' limit, because it seemed to me that 823 under the conditions of modern warfare the whole human system was undermined and that the average man would become old when he should be middle aged. All the tests of the battlefield would age a man more quickly. If anyone looks at the records he will see that I was one of the few to protest against that seven years' limit, but now you can find hardly any Member who would not say that the seven years' limit was a mistake. As the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) well said, the Government since that time have had to find a mass of subterfuges in order to get over it.
Let me now deal with a question that has scarcely been touched upon. That is the question of the mother and father and other such dependants of the soldier. I have managed to get the Army Order on this matter out of the Library. I am glad to hear that the Department are to issue a White Paper, which, I expect, will contain the Order itself and also explain it. It is Army Order No. 170 dealing with the Royal Warrant for Dependants Allowances. I think that one of the mistakes made on this occasion—and I can understand how it has been made—is that the tendency has been to work out all these allowances through the paymasters.
If the House will carry its mind back to the conditions of the last war, I think it will be generally agreed that, in the first year or two, great masses of men came into the Army through the Territorial Association. They joined their local units and were in touch with the Territorial officers. There was so much dissatisfaction over the amounts that dependants of sons were to receive that finally the Government were compelled to hand the matter over to old age pensions committees. I was on the county council at the time, and a member of one of these old age pensions committees. When these people made a claim for allowances they could appear before the old age pensions committees, and they could speak to their county councillor or some other person whom they knew intimately and who was dealing with these matters. The investigation was made by the old age pensions officers, and a person could appear before the committee. The whole thing was intimate. Now their lot is settled in the paymaster's office at some place perhaps a long way off. People are going about saying, "I am 824 not getting anything," or "I am just getting so and so."
I suggest to the Government that it would give more satisfaction, and the organisation would prove more efficient, if they would hand this problem of settling the many intricate questions arising out of dependants allowances over to bodies like the old age pensions committees in localities instead of allowing them to be settled, by some obscure person or official in a remote office. There is a good deal in the Royal Warrant in addition to that. We are told who the dependants are, and that the allowance is subject to the condition that the father has to be incapable of self-support. If a father is capable of self-support he gets nothing for himself. That section is starred and it refers us to the definition paragraph on page 5 which defines incapacity as:The inability of a person concerned to support himself or herself solely by reason either of physical or mental infirmity of a prolonged or permanent nature, or of age as defined in paragraph (9).Does that mean that if a man is healthy, strong and working and getting a wage that he is to get no payment for the loss of that son. Then there is another condition. The condition under (9) relates to age and says:in respect of adult dependants, the period commencing on the 60th or 65th anniversary of birth according as the dependant is a woman or a man.Does that mean that they have to be 60 years of age before they get any allowance? I have read this paragraph many times as closely as I could, and that seems to be the logic of the business. It is true that there is a scale set out on page 5 of the conditions under which parents are going to get something for their sons and daughters, but it seems to me that in the case of a widowed mother there is the possibility of her being prohibited for getting anything for her son. I will not deal with the words set out on page 5 because they are a complicated calculation.
I am not sure in view of the Royal Warrant that there are many people who will get allowances for their sons. There is a great reluctance to settle these matters. A woman came to see me last week. She has three sons in the Army and she has given up her own time and wears an A.R.P. badge. She is a widow of 60 years of age. Two of the sons are single and one married. One single son allotted 825 her 8s. 9d. and the other 7s. One has been killed in training. I do not want to criticise the War Office on this matter of payments, because they are doing their best in very difficult circumstances in these early days when masses of men have to be dealt with. They have been very considerate and sympathetic to this woman's tragedy, but I have discovered a fact as the result of her visit to me. She has had the amounts from her two sons of 8s. 9d. and 7s., but she has had to pay 11s. 6d. rent and has had to go to the Poor Law. That is a tragedy.
Here is a woman whose whole livelihood depends upon her two sons, and there is no guarantee as to her getting an amount that will keep her in decency. She is a type of woman to whom any community would want to give special consideration, because she is a very fine woman. That woman in the ordinary way would have gone to the local centre of the council. She would have seen the chairman or somebody connected with the council, her means would have been settled and there would have been no difficutly over it. What is more, there is no doubt that the allowance of the dependant in the case of a son will in a considerable direction go towards settling what the pension will be in the event of that son being killed. This special Army Order is complicated and there are some very damaging things in it. I do not think that full allowance is given for the amount of the contribution and help which the son is giving before he goes into the Army, and above all there is no arrangement for any revision. In the last war the method was that if a son was 18 he might be considered to be getting 4s. or 5s. a day, but in some trades like my own if he was 19 he would be in a key job and probably doubling or trebling that amount. That fact counted with the committees, and it counts here. It is the principle upon which the allowances have to be decided.
In this Warrant there is no arrangement to take into consideration the increased wages a young man would have earned if he had stayed in industry. Surely, we are not going to penalise any man twice by making him lose wages because he is in the Army and also lose what advantages he would have got because he has gone into the Army. I think the House should have an opportunity of examining this special Army Order and this Royal Warrant together with the question of 826 soldiers' dependants. They are indeed matters for consideration. I am certain that with all the faults of the last system this can be said, that it did help to tide over a difficult time after the war in the case of men who were wounded and disabled. If with the much higher standards we have now and the much greater value which the masses of the people are putting on themselves, we continue on these lines, I say that not only will it interfere with the successful prosecution of the war but if the war should collapse we shall be laying up trouble on a considerable scale. Men will consider that they have been treated unfairly at a moment when they could expect the Government to be specially generous to them.
§ 10.25 P.m.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I must express my regret that, as the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) said, we have had three subjects to debate to-day. Personally, I would have preferred to have had a full day's debate on my own Department and the Warrant issued from that Department, and I would have much preferred to have been able to deal with the many questions that I know would have been raised; but actually, two-thirds of the Debate have been devoted to the question of allowances to soldiers' families. That matter has been replied to by my right hon. and gallant Friend. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] In any case, I am sure that hon. Members will not expect me to deal with that question. I understand that they want me to deal with war pensions, and I am very keen to do so. I am very glad that this Debate has taken place, if for no other reason than that we have been able to hear hon. Members' criticisms of the Royal Warrants and the scales of allowances for disability pensions and for those who are left behind when unfortunately any of our men pass over. There is nothing like having a full and clear statement of the case so that we know where we are. I have been rather surprised to find out how little criticism has been levelled against the Royal Warrant itself. [HON MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am indeed, because according to what I had heard, I was going to have a very difficult time to-day. In fact, the criticisms have boiled down to very few points, although I agree that there has been very considerable criticism of the 827 scales because they differ from those of 1919.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said something that I was very thankful to hear him say. He had some faith in me in dealing with these questions, and he hoped that I would be as generous in my treatment of those who have to rely upon these pensions in future as I have been in my advocacy of the unemployed men in the past. I am very proud to think that the hon. Member has remembered what I did in those days on behalf of unemployed men. When the Prime Minister invited me to take the office of Minister of Pensions, I did not take it because I thought I was going to have an easy job; for there has not yet been a Minister of Pensions who has not had a very hard time; and even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. F. 0. Roberts) has acknowledged that he got one of the hardest jobs that his Government were able to give any of their Members. I accepted this office because I felt that at long last I would have a chance of doing something for those fellows I have been proud to serve with in the British Legion, for those who unfortunately have to come to the Minister of Pensions for help. I want to put this consideration to hon. Members. During the time I have been at the Ministry, has any hon. Member brought to me a single case to which I have not given careful and sympathetic consideration?
§ Sir W. Womersley
The hon. Member will get his answer to-morrow, and he will be satisfied when he gets it. What is more, I shall be very pleased to show him the papers. The hon. Member does not mention the cases I have been able to meet. Let him be fair. I make those remarks only because I want to point out that I entered into this job full of sympathy for the ex-service men of the last war, and although I hoped that there would not be another war, full of sympathy for the men serving in this war. I want hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to consider the answer which the Prime Minister gave to a question last week. I think it will help us to bear that answer in mind and I had hoped that some hon. Member would have referred 828 to it in the Debate. The Prime Minister in reply to the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) made it very clear that in his opinion:the provision made in the new Royal Warrant for pensions in respect of disablement and death among soldiers and in the corresponding instruments for other classes which include the Mercantile Marine, Fishing Fleet and Civil Defence Volunteers and other Civilians covered by the Personal Injuries (Civilians) Scheme is fair, having regard to the present cost of living-… Of course, if the cost of living should rise to a material extent during the war, the position could be reconsidered.There is no doubt about it that that will have to be reconsidered. Under the Royal Warrant of 1919 a reduction could be made in the pensions of recipients if the cost of living dropped by five points but that was never put into operation. [HON. MEMBERS: "There would be no pension left."] I say that was not put into operation but it was provided for and we have heard to-day the 1919 Warrant quoted as if it had been the very last word in Royal Warrants of this kind. But I hope hon. Members will allow me to continue to deal with what the Prime Minister said, and then I think the House will understand what the position is. The Prime Minister in the same reply went on to say this, to which I invite the attention of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot):At the same time the new code is not regarded as necessarily final in all its details, and if the Government find that certain provisions operate unreasonably in any minor respect, they will not hesitate to make any alterations which may prove to be justified.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to deal with this in my own way. I want hon. Members to take particular notice of this passage in the Prime Minister's reply:In particular I have been impressed by the representations made with regard to the number of children for whom the disablement pensioner receives allowances, and the Minister of Pensions will give early consideration to this provision."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th October, 1939; cols. 511 and 512, Vol. 352.]That is exactly my answer to the point about the children's allowances stopping instead of continuing for all the members of the family. I am going into the matter as quickly as possible, and I hope to be 829 able to report to the House the decision at which I arrive with the permission, of course, of the Cabinet and, I hope, with the consent of the Treasury. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well, I am not afraid of the Treasury and this has been my experience in the course of the administration of war pensions. Under the 1919 Warrant there are certain cases in which I have to go to the Treasury to get their sanction for the grant of any pension at all and where I have put up a case to the Treasury—and of course I have put up my arguments with it—I have succeeded on every occasion. But there is something more which I want to say to the House, before I deal with some of the points which have been made in the Debate.
During the last war and shortly afterwards we had an Advisory Committee which is still in being. Only a few weeks ago the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) put a question to me about it. I replied that the Central Advisory Committee was formed to consider any matters that might be put before them by the Minister for their advice, and I went on to say that I should not hesitate to call the members together if any matter of sufficient consequence should arise on which I found it desirable to have their advice. I am satisfied that the moment has arrived when I can usefully take the advice of such a committee. The committee consists of representatives of war pensions committees. I think hon. Members will agree that we could not have better representation because these are the people who, throughout the country, have been dealing with war pensions cases. War pensions committees, who have not had a great deal to do during the last few months, have been approached and in every case they have agreed to act again to deal with questions which are bound to arise on pensions matters if we have the unfortunate experience of the last war as regards the number of casualties.
On the Central Advisory Committee there are, in addition, representatives of every party in the House. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) is a member. The membership wants bringing up to date because it contains names of certain hon. Members who will not be able to serve. I suggest that the Chief Whips of the Labour and Liberal Oppositions should select whom they think are suit- 830 able men to serve on the committee, and I shall be pleased to accept them as helpers and advisers in this matter. I feel that if I have the Advisory Committee sitting we can get down to those minor points which have been mentioned during this Debate. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the major ones?"] The hon. Member can tell me which he thinks are the major and which are the minor points, but I am the fellow to judge. I suggest that it is far better to have such an Advisory Committee than to go in for the elaborate machinery of a Select Committee which has been suggested.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Does the Minister intend to call into being this Advisory Committee to deal with the exceptional cases that crop up, or with the Royal Warrant and all that it contains?
§ Sir W. Womersley
This Advisory Committee has nothing to do with individual cases. It is to advise me on general administration, including the Royal Warrant.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I am going to deal with the scales shortly, and, as the Prime Minister promised, if the cost of living goes up we can deal with that question in a different way. I should not mind, however, discussing even the question of scales with the Advisory Committee. I should like the committee in the first place, however, to deal with the points raised to-night and other points that may be raised in future with regard to the Royal Warrant. I must not omit to mention that on that Advisory Committee were representatives of the British Legion, who have rendered very valuable assistance, and I hope I shall have their assistance on this committee when it is revived, as I hope it will be very quickly.
It may be said that we shall not have time to call the committee together and get along with this matter before people begin to come forward for the payment of allowances. As a matter of fact the arrangement is that the Services will continue to pay the regular allowances for 13 weeks after the death, and then we take it over from them, so there is time to go carefully through the Royal Warrant, which I shall be able to do with this committee, and to deal with any of the points which have been raised or may 831 be raised by members of the committee, and then come back to the House and get the sanction of the House, if that be necessary, to the alteration. I think that is a better way of getting down to this business than by having a Select Committee. That would mean that I should have to have men from my Department at the committee every day giving evidence—doctors and other people whose services are badly wanted in other directions—and hon. Members who formed that Select Committee would have to be in close attendance here. I can assure them that such a committee would be sitting for a long time under the slow procedure in such cases. I think it is far better to have an Advisory Committee, so that I can deal with these questions in consultation with them. Then, I feel, we shall arrive at something which is of concrete value.
I do not say that it is possible to satisfy everybody. It certainly is not, because when I did go into this matter I found that many things that had been said about the staff and the medical officers were not altogether deserved. I am going to say for them that they do their level best to assist the applicant.
§ Sir W. Womersley
That is not worthy of the hon. Member. I am making a statement that I can substantiate, and I went into that Department with a prejudiced mind. It was not quite as prejudiced as the hon. Member's, but it was prejudiced, and I say, as far as my staff are concerned, that they are doing their level best, of course according to the regulations they have to work under, and no one will deny that they have given the man the benefit of the doubt in every case—at any rate every case that I know of. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am giving my experience.
§ Mr. Foot
Before the Minister leaves the question of a Select Committee will he allow me to put one question to him? A Select Committee reports to this House and the minutes of evidence are available to this House. Will the same conditions 832 apply in the case of the Advisory Committee? Will their report be available to the House?
§ Sir W. Womersley
No, I cannot make any such promise. I think I have made a very good offer. After all, the Minister has some responsibility. I have the responsibility and I am not shirking it. I must assume some responsibility, but I am quite willing to consult such an Advisory Committee and spend a good deal of time with them. Neither Debates in this House, nor other business outside, will prevent me from dealing with these cases personally and seeing to it that there is a prompt issue of pension certificates. I do not want it to be said that some of those who should have pensions are having to go to the Poor Law authorities for temporary relief, and hon. Members must realise the task I shall face if, unfortunately, we begin to get heavy casualties.
—whether the Committee will be charged with our views as expressed to-day and what we regard as the wrongs in the Royal Warrant?
§ Sir W. Womersley
Seeing that there are selected Members from all parts of the House, I think the hon. Lady can rest assured that these and many other points will be borne in mind. Let us get down to something real. I challenge the hon. Member for Dundee, or any other Member, to produce a long and complicated document like the Royal Warrant and not find in it some little thing—[HON. MEMBERS: "Paragraph 5"]. I will deal with that. I have it down here all right.
When I introduced the Bill, I said I was taking over from the Army, Navy and Air Force their pensions liabilities. I was taking over at the same time practically their pension rates. The rates are almost the same as those which have been operating since 1919. There has been a good deal of misunderstanding on this matter. It has been quoted in newspapers that we are paying less now than we did in 1914. Of course, that is entirely wrong. The 1919 Warrant was after the war was over, when we knew the full extent of our liabilities, and we 833 were able to make a general review of the whole position. The result of that was that a more generous scale of payment was allowed. The cost of living was at a very high figure. It has dropped considerably since then. I have the figures here and I could give them. This consideration of all these problems was really the work of many years, and we took into consultation representatives of the three Departments. My own Department was represented, of course, and so was the Treasury, and they took into account the difference in the cost of living, because during the 1914–18 war you had four or five occasions when increases in pensions were made because of the increased cost of living. When you come to the highest point, in 1919, a certain rate was fixed, but with this proviso that, if there was a fall in the cost of living, there could be a reduction in the pension.
I am glad to say that the Minister of Pensions of the time decided not to make any reduction when the cost of living fell, but I am going to submit that you could not have started at the beginning with high rates and then added to them, because it would have made the burden impossible to bear. Those who were responsible for drawing up this scale took those points into consideration and they fixed the amount almost 10 points above the cost of living—that is, taking the rates all round. These rates provided in the new Warrant will, in fact, give the great majority of pensioners a rather higher purchasing power than was given at the time of the Warrant of 1919. I want again to emphasise the Prime Minister's statement that, if there is a material rise in the cost of living, this matter can be reconsidered. I think that is a fair offer. If the cost of living increases, those who are to receive these pensions should have an increase in their pensions to meet that increase. I hope that the Prime Minister's promise on that point will be satisfactory to the House.
We have to bear in mind, in considering the financial effect of any increase in the pensions scale, that we are now dealing with soldiers, sailors and airmen, and that the Government have assumed responsibility for the Mercantile Marine and the fishing fleet, and for the Civil Defence volunteers when gainfully occupied, in respect of their war injuries. If some of the threats that Hitler has made ever 834 come into effect, there will be a tremendous bill to pay. I hope that it will not happen, but we have to take the matter into consideration. May I point out a few of the financial responsibilities that will have to be assumed by this or any other Government? When I said that the annual charge under the 1919 Warrant approached £100,000,000 in 1921, that was the highest figure. It began to drop shortly afterwards. It was exclusive of the cost of administration. The annual charge for a few years exceeded £90,000,000. If we went on to the 1919 rates straightaway, and assuming—I hope it will not happen—that our experience in this war will be something on the lines of the last in regard to the number of pensions to be paid, it would mean that we should have to find an extra £20,000,000 per annum right away under the present scheme and that the ultimate total cost, for which on the present basis the figure is the colossal one of £1,600,000,000, would be increased by a further £400,000,000; and we still have our obligations under the 1914–18 war to meet. When one is faced with figures such as that one has to pause and think.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The hon. Member will find them in the OFFICIAL REPORT. It is now Five Minutes to Eleven.
§ Sir W. Womersley
If I have to go till Half-past Eleven I shall enjoy myself. We cannot give any estimate of the cost of the civil pensions or what the Mercantile Marine or the Fishing Fleet will involve, but we must be prepared for something considerable and substantial. Otherwise, it would not be fair to the people concerned. We must, however, make a calculation of some kind, and it is a matter for great consideration whether we can involve ourselves in further large expenditure at the present time. I agree that if the cost of living rises pensions should be commensurate with it. Then, quite rightly, the older pensioners wonder why they cannot have an extra allowance. I do not know what the answer would be, whether they have the right to receive the same as the new pensioners are getting, or not.
835 I am prepared to give an assurance that I will go into consultation with this Advisory Committee as fully as possible,, and will give full consideration to all the points that have been raised. I hope that we shall be able to amend where it is necessary, and bring forward a scheme of which I myself will be proud and which, I hope, will give full satisfaction to hon. Members in this House. The hon. Member for Dundee asked me one or two specific questions and I do not mind replying to them, although I should say that in the main these questions will be dealt with by the Advisory Committee already set up. A point was raised by my hon. Friend about the seven-years limit. The question was, why should we not continue without a seven-years limit in operation? Actually, it is in operation; hon. Members keep sending me cases for my perusal, which they would not do if there was no seven-years limit in operation. It does not exist, although it is there in theory; that is the way I put it, because I do not know a Minister who would refuse to go into a deserving case, even if the seven-years limit was in operation.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The Warrant does not differ in any respect from that of 1919, but there can be no doubt that when the lapse of time makes it necessary to consider this point special provision will be given as was done in the amended Warrant of 1924. The matter can, in any event, have no practical importance for at least seven years. During this war—I hope it will not last seven years—there will be no questions to go to tribunals. If a man is killed in the war there is no question about his widow's right to a claim. It is a different matter from dealing with the case of a man 24 years after he has been wounded. I am sure hon. Members will appreciate that there are these difficulties in regard to tribunals. A medical officer will have to be detailed for special work at tribunals; and there will have to be many tribunals if they are going to do any 836 good at all. Medical men who are on urgent work will have to be taken away from their proper vocations, and long delay will result before these cases can be dealt with.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment lapsed.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn."—? [Captain Waterhouse.]
§ 11.1 p.m.
§ Sir W. Womersley
As we have been told that there is likely to be a further debate on this question of allowances, it is probable that the Pensions Department will come in on it, and I shall not have the least objection, but I would prefer it to be after I have had my Advisory Committee sitting. On the question of tribunals, the hon. Member for Dundee made a big point about the Royal Warrant, but in my opinion the real point at issue is whether you are going to get sympathetic administration. It is easy to work into the 1919 Warrant, which the hon. Member thinks is a model for all time, many things which would not be helpful to those who are applying for pensions. It is all a question of administration. From my short experience at the Department and my long experience of dealing with the Department, I prefer to have sympathetic administration rather than a lot of hide-bound rules and regulations.
I am surprised that the hon. Member has been able to pick only four things out of the Warrant to which he can object, and we are going to deal with them. [Interruption.] Yes I compliment him on his discernment in finding them. I have made what I consider a fair offer, and hon. Members must realise that I am as keen as they to see that justice is done. But there are other people to be taken into account—the taxpayers. While I should not, in any circumstances, allow the question of cost to enter into it if it were a question of injustice, I feel that in this Royal Warrant we have a sound structure on which to build. I am prepared to consider these points, and I am satisfied that 837 we shall be able to do something that will be of lasting benefit to the people concerned and that will be a credit to the Government.
§ 11.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
I hope that before 11.30 the Minister will deal with the points my hon. Friend has raised. The Minister said that it is much better to have a sympathetic administration than to have hidebound regulations which leave no discretion. The complaint made about this Royal Warrant is precisely that it introduces phraseology which makes it impossible for the administration, however sympathetic it might be, to exercise any discretion at all. I hope the hon. Gentleman will read the Royal Warrant again. He assures me that he has read it and I suppose he thinks he has understood it, but if he really believes that it leaves anything whatever to the discretion of the administration the sooner he gets his advisory committee together to advise him the better. At any rate he has not sought to deal with the point of criticism directed against it by the junior Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot). If he remains of the opinion that the Royal Warrant permits of sympathetic administration which might soften the harshness of the Warrant itself that is not so. There are a great many Members besides the hon. Member for Dundee who read the Royal Warrant with very great disquiet for precisely the reason that not merely does it not give the right to third party judgment nor provide any form of appeal but that it fetters even the sympathy of the administrative officials themselves by precluding them, in any case of doubt, from giving the benefit of the doubt to the applicant. It makes it incumbent upon the administration, wherever there is a doubt, to take the benefit of the doubt to the Department and away from the applicant.
I cannot go into the details of it at this late hour. It may be that that view of the Royal Warrant is entirely wrong, but we have done our best to read and understand it and to appreciate what it is intended to achieve and is likely to achieve. We are not actuated by any kind of 838 malice or ill will towards it. If we could see in the Warrant a means of sympathetic and just administration we should not be debating it in these times at this hour. But it is the case, as far as we can see, that the Royal Warrant gives to the Department the advantage of every doubt that can possibly creep in at any time, and it is on that account that we have been so indignant and disturbed about it.
The hon. Gentleman was good enough, in response to an interjection of mine—I dare say I ought not to have made it—to accuse me of prejudice against the officials, the Department and the administration. In a sense he is right, but it is not so much a prejudice as what I would call a post-judice. Any feeling I have against the Department at the moment is the result of what has been to me extremely bitter experience. I could quote case after case where I believe the applicant, if there were any right of appeal to third party judgment, would have established his case and got his pension. In all these cases, where there must have been at least a doubt, the Department has got the benefit of it. I have never yet, in all the four years I have been a Member of this House—and there have been numerous occasions on which I have brought cases to the attention of the Minister—succeeded in one case, though I cannot conceive that I have been always wrong. Certainly, it has resulted in the appearing of what the hon. Gentleman calls prejudice in my mind.
May I suggest this to him? There is one way in which he can avoid, not merely in my mind, but in the mind of the public generally, any feeling of prejudice. One way to avoid it is to provide some kind of machinery whereby any doubtful question can be impartially determined. We are bound to get injustice, we are bound to get suspicion of an injustice where the Department is judge, jury and witness of its own case. That is the position under the old Warrant, and the position obtains under the new Warrant.
I will conclude with this: If the hon. Gentleman is really anxious there shall be, not merely in fact, any prejudice, but that reasonably minded people, as I claim to be, shall not themselves be prejudiced against the Department, shall not them- 839 selves feel injustice is being done then he must so order things that the Department shall not give judgment in its favour where an outside authority would not. The way to avoid that is to provide some kind of machinery to determine these doubtful factors, some kind of impartial arbitration outside where the applicant or administration fight out the question on equal terms, and before a third party. I have had case after case in which the Department has set up the kind of defence favoured by third-rate insurance companies in actions in the county court: the difference is that the third-rate insurance companies do not get away with it. The Department does, and the only way to prevent it is by having some tribunal which retains public confidence by having no interest of its own in the result of disputes which it determines.
§ 11.12 p.m.
Mr. Vyvyan Adams
I am very glad indeed to see that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is just visible, because I have been waiting to say something in his hearing all day. I did not want to walk home three miles and a half in the black-out without taking up the two or three minutes that I have been wanting to consume since lunch. I heard the good-humoured speech of the Minister of Pensions, and it has given a certain amount of satisfaction. I want to refer again to the speech of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, for whom I feel some sympathy. But it is indeed ironical that he should have to apologise to this House for the rates of these allowances. Some years ago, he was the spokesman of a very fruitful rebellion with regard to the rate of 2s. for the children of the unemployed. After he had led into the Opposition Lobby a number of other revolting Conservatives, including myself, his worth was recognised and the Chief Whip very properly gave him office. Everyone cheered loudly. But to-night we have not been able to cheer. During the intervening years I fear something must have happened to our crusading chief.
I want to specify one particular case which occurred in my own City of Leeds. I do this to bring home to the Government to-night the effect in practice of these allowances. It is true that bad cases do not make good law, but what 840 I am going to describe is bound to happen in every comparable case. This is the experience of a soldier's wife who was an applicant for relief from the Leeds Public Assistance Committee.
This woman is the mother of nine children. The eldest boy aged 14, has been evacuated. The eight others remained at home under her care. The total Army allowance for the family amounts to 39s. per week. The husband of this woman has served in various Territorial units over a total period of 13 years. She is at present convalescent, with a baby two months old, and she had all the other children to look after. Apart from a boy of 14 who has been evacuated. the ages of the other children are as follows: Two boys 12 and 11 years; a girl of 9; three boys of 7, 5 and 4 years; a girl of a year and a half and a boy of two months. She informed the authority that a bounty of £5 helped to tide things over at first. "Now," she went on, "we get 39s. a week to feed, clothe and house eight children and myself." This 39s. to this entire household is allotted on the following basis: The wife gets 17s., the first child 5s., the second child 3s., the third child 2s., and the subsequent children—in this case no fewer than five—get 1s. each! That is a total of 32s. a week.
In addition to that there is 7s. a week allotted to the wife from the husband's Army pay. She made this observation, which is particularly relevant considering the conditions of our great cities at the present moment: "If the children were at school"—she said it without bitterness—"they might get a free dinner or free milk, but the schools are closed." She added "It is the shilling a child that knocks the bottom out of the Army allowances. If you have five mouths to feed at 1s. a week each, how can you make ends meet?".
When she was asked what was the days bill of fare for the household she replied as follows:" breakfast, bread and margarine; dinner, a drop of soup with stewing meat, onions, carrots, potatoes and marrow"—the vegetable marrow came from a harvest festival—"tea, bread and margarine and"—to use her own words—"anything we can catch." Out of her 39s. a week she has to pay 4s. 6d. a week into a clothing club, and she made the observation that the boys 841 took some looking after in shoe leather. There is also 5s. 4½d. a week in rent; 2s. 6d. a week in insurance; and 3s. 6d. a week for coal. The rest—the princely total of 23s. for nine persons—is spent, as anyone can well imagine, on food. During the last four or five days since the report was made, five of these children have been taken into the care of Dr. Barnardo's Homes. It is good that such a refuge is available for them. But I am sure that the House will agree that it is wrong that such a domestic crisis should arise at all when the head of 'the family is serving with the Forces. It is clearly due to these impertinent rates of allowances. We have heard to-day mention of a declining birth rate. Here is a case where the parents, and I do not suggest there are not many other similar cases, have served the State well by having nine children, all of them, as is well known in this particular instance, as well cared for as the funds of the family have allowed.
For the past 13 years the head of this family has acted as an element in our defences, and he now adds to our indebtedness by going to fight. To fight for 842 what? In the cause of freedom. And yet, the family he has left behind were, in the first instance, left with a lower standard of life than that produced in Germany by our blockade. This man, like thousands of others, may soon be in danger far greater than any that we in this House have yet been allowed to incur. He is fighting for himself, for his family, and for us all. I ask the House, and the Government, in particular, whether they think it is right that this man and his wife should have had to appeal for public assistance, and not only that, but that his family should have had to be broken up. I suggest that the very least that the authorities can do is to protect his dependants against this profound poverty, which not only in this case, but in many other cases as well, as a direct consequence of these entirely inadequate soldiers' allowances, amounts to a public scandal of the first magnitude.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-two Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.