§ Mr. Hubert Beaumont (Batley and Morley)
It is with some degree of hesitancy and a considerable amount of trepidation that I venture to address the House to-day. That is caused by the fact that this is the first occasion that I have been privileged to open a Debate in this honourable House. Also I am very conscious of my own personal limitations. I am, however, fortified by the fact that the subject which I introduce is one that commands the universal sympathy and interest of all Members of the House. We had evidence yesteday that war is the costliest adventure upon which any nation can embark. The presentation of the Vote of Credit by the Chancellor of the Exchequer signified that fact. It is, however, impossible for us to assess, or to express, in monetary terms what is meant by the great loss of life, the untold suffering, the human anguish, the blasted lives, the destroyed homes, and the mental and physical deterioration of the people. It is, therefore, the duty of the Government, and I lay these down as propositions, first, to provide the financial means of carrying the war on to a successful conclusion and to a complete victory. Its next duty is to provide the necessary and essential weapons of warfare. Its third duty is to strengthen and maintain the morale of the people. Its fourth duty is to avoid a reduction in physical and mental health and efficiency, and not to penalise prosperity. It is on those last two points that I wish to speak to-day.
We shall restate our desire, and our determination to secure better treatment for the wives and dependants of those who are serving so gallantly in the Forces at the present time. We are dealing with a Measure which affects the life and health of the great majority of the people of this country, and as the new Bill which has been introduced and passed comes into action, many thousands more, perhaps millions, will be affected. I am not proposing to deal with the basic pay of soldiers, or even with widows' pensions or payments to the wives of missing soldiers, or disability pensions or grants. But all these are matters which are crying out for revision in an upward direction. On 16th October we had a very interesting Debate in this House, interesting for the Members of the House, perhaps not so 1966 comfortable for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions. He lived on that day in a bleak and cold world. He had no friend to speak well of his proposals which he presented to the House. The White Paper was derided, its benefits jeered at. I think that if a free vote of the House had been taken on that occasion, it would have been defeated by an overwhelming majority. We have been told to wait and see how this scheme operates and how it affects the family. We have waited for two months, and we offer no excuse for submitting the matter again for the consideration of the House. The Minister of Labour, speaking in the Debate the other day said:The next point is soldiers' pay and allowances. The Government have recently introduced certain changes. We feel entitled to ask the House to agree to give those changes, set forth in the White Paper, a reasonable chance, in order that we may see how they affect the position. It is a very vexed problem, but the Government have the matter under review. We shall welcome a Debate, and, after hearing the views of the House, we shall consider the matter and make an early statement. The Government recognise that the proposed extension of the National Service Act imposes on them the necessity for making every possible provision for the well-being of those affected, and, in the administration of the pensions scheme, proper regard will be had to these circumstances. This question is raised on the issue of soldiers' allowances."—[OFFICIAL RE-POKV, 4th December, 1941; col. 1344, Vol. 376.]The Minister of Pensions, with characteristic astuteness and great kindliness, invited members of a committee of which I am secretary to visit the North West Coast and see the workings of the War Service Grants Department, which invitation we accepted. I do not know whether the Minister thought that he would spike our guns. I am not suggesting that he wanted to stifle criticism, but perhaps he hoped that what we saw would disarm criticism. If I might at this stage set the mind of the Minister at rest, I would tell him that he is not the target for to-night. I will admit at the outset that tremendous credit is due to the Minister, to the Parliamentary Secretary, and to the officials and staff of the War Service Grants Department, for the manner in which they have administered the system. I cannot speak too highly of the manner in which claims are considered. I would like also to emphasise the expedition with which the claims are dealt with. We saw the machine at work in all its stages. We realised that the 1967 whole staff were desirous of securing a settlement of the claims, and that every effort was made to see that the claims were not unduly delayed. We found, however, that in a number of cases there was considerable delay. The delay was occasioned before the forms reached the Department. It might be well for the Service Ministers to inquire into the fact that in many cases the delay occurred between the time when the form left the applicant and the time when it reached the Paymaster's Department. Having fortified myself against an attack from the Minister of Pensions, and having, perhaps, stolen some of his thunder, I am prepared to admit almost everything that he can say with regard to the efficiency of his Department.
One thing that surprised us was the small number of new applications. It may be remembered that great apprehension was expressed in the recent Debate lest the Department should be overwhelmed by the number of claims, and should not be able to deal effectively with them. When the Parliamentary Secretary said, in what we thought was a burst of optimism, that it was hoped that all claims would be dealt with by Christmas, we smiled, thinking that the machine would be inadequate to deal with the applications. I admit that the machinery devised by the Ministry of Pensions has been proved effective, and that the Womersley baby—if I may put it in this way—has developed into a lusty infant. We have wondered how it is that the number of claims has been so small. Is it because the married man, or the man with dependants, is not fully conversant with the opportunities he has for making claims? Is it because there are large numbers of these men overseas, and the information has not yet reached them? Is it because the Command orders and the orders of the various units and of the various Services have not stated in plain terms the rights of these men to make claims? Is it because—this may be the principal explanation—of the hesitancy of the wives of soldiers to apply, because they regard this as some kind of relief, with a stigma attaching to it? I wish we could get away from the idea that the acceptance from the State of such grants constitutes the acceptance of charity. Let us make it clear that this is not charity, 1968 but a right. Is the number so small because, with his characteristic modesty, the Minister has not sufficiently publicised his wares? The other day, being in a post office, I was curious to find out what notices were displayed on the walls. Among the notices, I saw one intimating to women that they could make application at any post office for these forms. It was printed in black on white paper, placed in an insignificant position, and I guarantee that not one person in a hundred would have seen that notice. I wonder whether this is a case of the Ministry hiding its light under a bushel, or whether the Post Office have dictated not only where the notice should be displayed, but also the manner in which it should be displayed. A notice printed in red upon yellow, or even in black upon yellow, would be far better than one printed in black upon white.
Our committee found that the average grant was about 15s. I hope the Minister will correct me if any of my figures are wrong. In any case, I shall not mention many figures, because I do not want to steal too much of his thunder. Prior to the issue of the White Paper, the proportion of claims accepted was 66 per cent.; after the issue of the White Paper, which brought in a great many people whose claims had previously been rejected, the percentage rose to 81 per cent. I submit that this justifies our demand that these allowances should be a statutory right, given automatically, and that it should not be necessary to apply for them. The grounds upon which applications have been made are very human grounds—increased cost of living, difficulty of meeting rent and rates, doctor's bills, insurances and many varied forms of pre-service commitments. While complimenting the Minister of Pensions on the manner in which he and his Department have handled the matter, I suggest that the task should not have been one for the Ministry of Pensions at all. I am sorry that all the Services are not represented on the Front Bench to-day. I am making no complaint—
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Captain Crookshank)
Perhaps I should explain that the representative of the Admiralty has been called away to the telephone, and is coming back.
§ Mr. Beaumont
I am making no complaint. I am very honoured by the fact 1969 that the Front Bench is as full as it is at present; but I want to make a charge against the three Service Departments. These questions of pay and allowances are the responsibilities of these Departments. I submit that they have shirked their obligations and have found in the Minister of Pensions a very kindly nurse, who is willing to take on their problems. This White Paper has done what we feared it would. It has brought into the homes of many people a form of means test, to which we object in principle. At the same time I believe that the operations of the Assistance Board officers have been very kindly and that their questioning has been very good.
I want to ask the Minister of Pensions one question. When a woman in receipt of a war service grant is notified that her husband is killed or missing and that she is reduced to the meagre provision of a widow's pension, does she continue to receive the amount of the Service grant in respect of commitments already admitted? We find that a number of widows are brought down to a state almost of poverty by the reduction in their grants.
I do not want my speech to-day to be purely negative. I wish to make proposals of a positive character, and I will submit to the House certain conclusions arrived at by a committee of Members of this party, and accepted and endorsed by the party itself. In passing, I would like to say that the action which has been taken by the Department of the Minister of Pensions has brought a happier Christmas into the homes of many thousands of people and has resulted in serious anxiety being removed from those homes. But that anxiety, we say, is one which should never have existed. I desire on behalf of my hon. Friends to set out certain fundamental principles which we recommend for adoption. We believe it should be recognised that the provision of adequate dependants' allowances for all members of the Forces, with the consequent contentment which this would bring with their own material conditions and those of their families, is vital to the success of the war effort and should be a primary charge on our finances. We believe that an adequate rate of pay should be given to all ranks. We assert that there should be adequate allowances for wives and children without any means test and that there should also be adequate allow- 1970 ances in respect of dependants other than wives and children. We believe that, over and above the foregoing, there should be provision for war service grants in cases where the normal allowances are not adequate to cover exceptional instances of financial obligation or hardship. We believe that officers' pay and family and dependants' allowances should have the same principles applied to them and in pursuance of those principles we offer a scheme.
We suggest, not as the first step but rather as a preliminary to the first step, that there should be a reduction in the compulsory allotment made by the man. The only advantage of this allotment seems to be that it is presumed to inculcate a sense of financial responsibility in the man. It also provides a means of penalising the family of a man who is committed for a period of more than 28 days for some wrong-doing. But we find this strange anomaly, that the unmarried soldier has 17s. 6d. a week to spend, whereas the married soldier has only 10s. 6d. That amount is reduced by charges such as barrack-room charges, cleaning of equipment and so forth. These approximate to about 1s. a week. You have this tremendous difference that the married soldier has only something like 9s. 6d. a week to spend while the unmarried soldier has 16s. 6d. When we consider the high price of cigarettes and tobacco and the increased price of beer— if I may mention that now that the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) has left the Chamber—and such matters as the cost of postage, we must realise that 9s. 6d. is a very meagre amount and that the married soldier is placed in an unfair position. We think it would be too revolutionary to suggest the abolition of the allotment—although I, personally, think it should be abolished. I do not believe that the married soldier has any greater sense of financial responsibility because he is compelled to make an allotment. We therefore suggest that the allotment should be reduced by one half and that the soldier should be compelled to pay only 3s. 6d. per week instead of the amount laid down in the White Paper.
We go further, and suggest that the wife should receive 40s. a week made up of the 3s. 6d. allotment and 36s. 6d. family allowance made out of Service 1971 funds. It is estimated that household expenses, of rent and rates to-day, at the very lowest computation, represent 9s. a week and on that basis one can realise how soon the amount now allowed under the War Service Grants system can be exceeded. Furthermore, 25s. a week is a recognised basis, and if we allow approximately for the additional 15s., which is the average of the grants allowed, we arrive at the figure of 40s. It may be said, and it will doubtless be argued, that it would be unwise and undesirable to give the childless wife such a large sum and that if we did, she would cease to recognise her obligations to the State and would be unwilling to undertake war work. I do not believe that the wife of a soldier, sailor or airman would be so oblivious to her responsibility and her duty that she would not go into the factory to help her husband by providing the munitions of war. But if it should be deemed necessary to make a distinction between the childless wife and the wife with children, we suggest that the basic rate should be the same for both, but that an additional amount should be given for the first two children to meet the tremendous financial responsibilities which married women with children have to incur. Married women without children may live with their parents or in rooms but in the case of those who have children, it is desirable that, wherever possible, they should have separate homes.
We recommend that the wholly dependent adult relative, within the existing definitions in Command Papers, should receive the same allowance as a wife, namely, 40s., made up of 3s. 6d. allotment and 36s. 6d. out of Service funds. With regard to partial dependants, we recommend that they should receive allowances based on the average net weekly contribution made by the soldier before joining up plus any assumed increase due to any increase of pay which he would have received had he remained in civil employment. With regard to the children—and this is a fundamental part of the scheme—we recommend an allowance of 10s. 6d. per child for all children up to 14 years of age, and after 14 years of age where the child is at school the rate should be 16s. This is the unit figure for an adult. It may be said that this is a large amount, but it will be 1972 within the recollection of the House that the present billeting allowance for children under 10 is 10s. 6d. a week. It should be recognised that those who billet children do not have to provide clothing and other essentials, and in those circumstances I think it will be admitted that 10s. 6d. is not too high a sum to pay in respect of the children of the members of our Forces. We recognise that there will be cases which will not be met even by allowances on this basis. The War Service Grants Committee we submit, will have to adjudicate on such cases. On behalf of my hon. Friends I would say that we are not wedded to these figures but are prepared to accept higher figures, if these are approved by the House.
I now come to another question with which some of my hon. Friends may wish to deal later, namely, the question of officers' allowance. Oftentimes it is found that men who might be suitable for officers hesitate to accept commissions because it would place them in financial difficulties to do so. It is reasonable to assume that the nation is losing the value of leadership of some very fine men who dare not accept the responsibilities of leadership because it would mean financial hardship to their families.
I am honoured to have the presence of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, became this is the part of my speech which I wish to direct to him. He may say, "Where is the money-coming from?" I do not know; I cannot estimate. I have not the figures on which to base an estimate, and I do not know the number of our serving men in the Forces, but may I assume that it might cost £100,000,000 to implement these proposals—the cost of nine days of the war? When we are expending money on war, we do not pause or hesitate to consider the cost of battleships, of aeroplanes or of tanks and guns and other munitions of war. We provide the money because it is necessary that the men who are fighting for us shall have the instruments with which to fight. And rightly so. We must not be timid upon spending money upon health. I submit that our proposals, though they may be somewhat revolutionary, will avoid chaos and confusion, remove hardship, simplify administration and dispel doubts and fears. There will be a great saving in the cost of administration. It will increase national fitness and give us 1973 healthier and happier children, and it will encourage the members of the Fighting Services. Again, the Chancellor of the Exchequer may say, "Where is the money to come from?" May I tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer that that is his task and not ours? Knowing the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I am certain that his benign countenance does not cloak the stony heart with which he is credited. True, he is the keeper of the nation's purse, but I believe that nothing would make the Chancellor of the Exchequer happier than an instruction from this House to find another £100,000,000 more to provide for these additional allowances. In fact, I believe he would be delighted to receive it.
Can we afford it? May I put it the the other way? Can we afford to endanger the lives of those whose task it will be to create the new civilisation, to restore sanity to humanity and to rebuild a shattered world? We spend money to equip our Fighting Services, and surely we should also be willing to spend money to maintain the efficient standard of life of our people. If there is to be a tightening of the belt and if sacrifices are to be asked, let us not ask them first from those families whose men are fighting our battles. In the sum total of human suffering we say that those families should be the last to suffer. While we are fighting for our lives, let us not sacrifice the nation's health and efficiency by niggardliness and parsimony. I believe the country desires that generosity should be extended to these families. I believe that the country is in advance of the opinion of this House, and I am certain that the opinion of this House is well in advance of the opinion and actions of the Government. We want the Government to face up to its responsibilities and to implement the wishes of the nation.
We must not feed patriotism, which we interpret as love of liberty and freedom, on distress, anxiety or penury. The morale of our troops is more affected by the conditions of the folk at home than by anything else. Think of the anxiety of the men who are in Libya and in the Far East with regard to the well-being of their families. All members of the Fighting Services are more concerned with the well-being of their families than they are about their own welfare. Their morale is more likely to be affected by anxiety about loved ones than by any physical 1974 hardship that they themselves may be called upon to endure. Not the least important part of the Service man's equipment is the knowledge that his own folk are being well cared for and well protected. This knowledge will be the most effective in upholding his morale, in quickening his spirit, in inspiring his actions and in rendering him dauntless and invincible.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
When the hon. Member for Batley (Mr. H. Beaumont) delivered his maiden speech in this House, I was guilty of the impropriety of an interruption, not realising that it was the first occasion on which he was addressing us. That makes it the greater pleasure to congratulate him on the admirable manner in which he has put his case before the House to-day. The hon. Member confined himself to the issue of dependants' allowances. I propose to go forward on a rather broader front than that, because we are here to-day to discuss the whole question of Service pay.
I have always been proud of my membership of this House, but there is a time once a fortnight when I am not. That is when I have to stand at the pay-table and witness the payment of naval ratings, knowing what they have done and seeing what they draw. The fact is that the whole economic balance of the country has been allowed to get out of hand by the Government because of the extraordinary and disgraceful discrimination against the rank and file of the Forces as compared with those in reserved occupations. We are laying up an awful legacy of social unrest when this war comes to its conclusion. I realise that it may well be said by the present Government, which took office in May, 1940, although the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in office in the Government before that, and the one before that, and the one before that— May, 1940—they may say it, but they cannot justifiably say it—was too late to make an adjustment in the scales of remuneration as between the Forces and industry. They may properly say that there were other pre-occupations. There was Dunkirk, and there was the collapse of France; there were all these things. If the line that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to take is that, at the present time, you cannot make these adjustments without throwing out of gear many trade union agreements—although I 1975 know that hon. Members opposite feel just as strongly about it as I do—there seems to me to be another method by which this injustice can be righted.
I put down a Question to the right hon. Gentleman the other day. I asked him whether the Government would give consideration to granting a gratuity to Service men after the war which would be commensurate with the nest-egg which is being put aside by industrial workers under our present Income Tax system and through the savings which they are able to make. I got one of those stonewalling replies with which we have become familiar, which referred me to a reply given some time ago to somebody else on a somewhat different matter. But within a day or two I received this letter —it is not from a constituent—which I will read to hon. Members, because I think it is a very reasonable expression of the feeling of the men of the rank and file. It is from a soldier and not a naval rating, who had seen my Question in the Press. He says:Dear Sir,—On behalf of the majority of Service men, a thousand thanks for your proposition of a guaranteed gratuity for soldiers after this war. The recent increase was only a means test applicable where the soldier cannot meet his financial obligations and serious hardship is experienced, as the form says. But thousands of our men in training, with young wives, are being ruined in thanks for our service while our colleagues of the same age who probably out-number us get fat m reserved occupations. On my embarkation leave last week my wife cried because our hard-earned savings, which would have fully equipped our home, will now buy only one suite and necessities, whereas her old school chums are marrying reserved men from 19 to 30 and are buying nice homes. Their husbands will be able to grab the best jobs before we get out and have a nice nest egg from Income Tax as well to come to them. Please see if you can get us a guarantee of something to start us off after the war, not forgetting the discharged unfit men who have service to their credit.I think that is a very reasonable statement of the position.
I now intend to enter into what I am told is a dangerous area. I am informed that criticism of members of the War Cabinet is an act of irreverence almost akin to brawling in church, but, nevertheless, I will make this statement. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has given me the impression—and he may well have given it to others—that his attitude towards these demands for increased pay 1976 and allowances for the Services is one of complacency, amounting at times almost to bored annoyance with the House when it presses him on the subject. We are fortunate in this war in having at the head of our Fighting Services men who have seen active service in their time, and in my view the time has come for the head of the Treasury to be one who has seen the seamy side of things and some of the experiences of the rank and file of the Services under active service conditions.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
I will listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Burslem when it comes. I have a feeling that the reason why the Service demands get side-tracked for so long—it is about two months since this matter was raised—is because these men are not vocal and because they have no trade union. But they have the House of Commons, and those of us who happen to be serving in this war would be lacking in our duty if we did not put forward their point of view. I say to hon. Members on all benches that here is a case where Parliament must firmly impose its will on the Executive. The Prime Minister, in his speech on the Address at the beginning of this Session, said that Members who criticised the Government—I am paraphrasing his remarks; they are all on record—had no concentration camps or rubber truncheons to fear but would have to make laborious explanations to their constituents if they did criticise the Government. Well, hon. Members need not fear any laborious explanations to their constituents on this matter. It will be the Ministers who will have to make laborious explanations if this matter is not dealt with immediately. Public opinion demands that justice should be done to the rank and file of His Majesty's Forces. These men are facing the greatest military machine in history day by day with courage. They do not complain out loud about these things. They are as loyal to the country as ever, and I find they have a faith in this old Parliament. They believe they are fighting for a Parliamentary system which does represent all our feelings. Let that faith be justified by our works.
§ Mr. Norman Bower (Harrow)
As this is the first occasion on which I rise to address this House and so soon—in fact, 1977 most hon. Members will probably say un-pardonably soon—after my entry into it, I trust the House will treat my shortcomings, numerous as they will undoubtedly be, with that indulgence which is customary on the occasion of a maiden speech. I understand that one of the advantages of speaking for the first time is that unless an hon. Member is positively bursting with wrath so that he can scarcely contain himself, he rarely interrupts. Therefore, I will try to do my part by trying to be as brief as possible, because I know that time is short and that many hon. Members wish to speak. I will also try to be as little controversial as possible, so that other hon. Members may not be led into any unnecessary provocation.
The only reason why I have the temerity to rise at all at this early stage is because, having served in the Army as a private soldier during the first six months of the present year, and having been rather suddenly and unexpectedly translated to this House, I feel myself under a special responsibility to say just a few words on behalf of those who are still serving and those who are about to serve. I am aware that much, if not most, of what I want to say will be said by other Members far better than I can ever hope to say it, but it seems to me that the matter we are discussing to-day is one of such overwhelming importance in relation to the whole conduct of the war that a little repetition and reiteration, although they may grate on the nerves of some, cannot do any real harm. I want to make a special plea for the lower ranks in the Services and also on behalf of the older men, with special reference to the question of dependants' allowances. While they are grateful, and we are all grateful, for what the Government have found themselves able to do in the direction of raising these allowances, as they recently have done, and particularly in connection with the operation of the War Service Grants Committee, yet I do know from my own personal experience and representations which have been made to me since my own service in the Army terminated that the people in the ranks of the Services feel that their wives and families are being placed at a definite disadvantage as compared with the wives and families of men in reserved occupations, who, by mere accident of trade or 1978 profession, are enabled to remain behind and continue to enjoy all the amenities of civil employment. If that feeling is allowed to continue, it will inevitably impair their spirit and morale in carrying out whatever duties may be assigned on them.
Up to the age of 25 or a few years after it is not such a terrible hardship to be called up. It is not pleasant, as we all know, but it does not involve quite that terrific upheaval and unrooting of the whole of one's existence that it does in the case of older men. When you get to the late thirties or the early forties, such as those who may be called up under the new National Service Bill, then you are dealing with an entirely different proposition. You are dealing with men who perhaps have already devoted the best years of their lives to their own particular occupations, with men who have acquired established positions in life and with men who have undertaken substantial commitments which they have tried to maintain. I think it is obvious that, even under the most generous system of allowances, it will be very difficult for many of those men to meet their commitments.
They are not all so fortunate, of course, but some of them are in good positions, some of them have businesses of their own, or interesting jobs and good salaries, and so forth; in fact, they are just beginning to enjoy the fruits of years of hard work, or sacrifice and of thrift. They are being asked to give up all these things, to give them up immediately, and in some cases for ever, because we all know that many of them will not be able to come back immediately the war is over and pick up the threads exactly where they let them fall. But they are quite willing to make all these sacrifices, they are perfectly willing to give up all these things, for the sake of the cause for which we are fighting this war. They are as loyal and patriotic as any other section of society. All they ask is that their wives and families should not be penalised by the mere accident of employment, but that they should be treated as fairly and generously as it is humanly possible for them to be treated. In fact, they ask that the words "equality of sacrifice" shall not be a mere meaningless phrase, but a living reality, so that they may go forward with every other section of the community with a feeling of perfect unity 1979 and confidence and comradeship to the achievement of our common aim.
§ Mr. F. Anderson (Whitehaven)
It falls to my lot to congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow (Mr. Bower) on his maiden speech. I am sure that all hon. Members agree with the major portion of what he said, and that is a very great feature of this Debate. I feel that the hon. Member, when speaking, was less nervous than I am at this moment, and I think we can safely say that we shall hear him speak in the House on other subjects on many occasions. I congratulate him on the wonderful speech he made.
I wish to support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Beaumont), and also to deal with certain aspects of the administration of the matters now under discussion. I want, first of all, to speak from the point of view of those who lived in areas that were very seriously depressed before the war. Hon. Members will recollect that under the schemes of the Ministry of Labour thousands of people were transferred from their homes to other places. Large numbers of these people have since joined the Forces. The plea I make is that people who were transferred under these schemes prior to the war, and who were not contributing, and could not contribute, to the maintenance of the home, should not be in any difficulty as a result of their transfer from their homes. What happens at the present time is that when an application is made, the various Departments say that, as the man was not contributing so much to the maintenance of the home prior to his enlistment, the mother the father, or other members of the family, are not entitled to receive a grant; whereas, in respect of those men who remained at home, a grant can be made. Moreover, a penalty is also put upon a person who was unemployed before enlistment in that he was not earning anything, but only receiving pay from the Unemployment Assistance Board; here, again, his family is told that as he was not earning anything prior to the war, they must be deprived of a substantial income. I submit that these things are capable of being remedied.
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
I would not like the state- 1980 ment which the hon. Member has made to go out without correction, since it is absolutely inaccurate. The disability to which he refers was removed 12 months ago.
§ Mr. Anderson
I do not agree with the Minister that my statement is absolutely inaccurate. If a person was unemployed and joined the Forces, the grant to his family is considerably reduced as a result of his having been unemployed. The grant is made only on the basis of what his economic position was prior to his joining the Forces.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Surely, the hon. Member is aware that I took that matter in hand over 12 months ago, and in the case of the man who had been unemployed, loaded up his pre-Service income to put him on a level at any rate with a man employed in the industry concerned as a labourer. That met the situation very fairly. Under the new scheme that does not count at all, because a minimum of 16s. per unit to each household is guaranteed.
§ Mr. Anderson
I agree that a minimum is guaranteed, but the point I want to make is that if the person had been employed as an engineer, for instance, and if lie had not been in the depressed area, the minimum allowance to the parents would have been more than is the case on the 16s. basis.
§ Mr. Anderson
The Government are making persons who were in the depressed areas prior to the war victims of circumstances.
§ Mr. Anderson
I claim that that is the position as far as the depressed areas are concerned. Another matter to which I want to refer is that recently I have been one or two cases of men who joined the Forces—again, from the depressed areas —prior to the outbreak of the war and who were not contributing anything to the maintenance of the household; the parents of these men have been told the a grant cannot be made. As a matter of fact, in one of these cases, which is now under review by the Ministry of Pensions, the mother has had to go to the public 1981 assistance committee for help because of her circumstances. I submit that this position should be remedied. There can be a change of circumstances and of conditions. Obviously, if a mother has a son who dies, or a son who gets married, she may then become dependent upon another son who joined the Forces prior to the war. Nevertheless, in such circumstances a grant cannot be made.
Another matter that requires consideration is the stoppages that are made at a moment's notice by the regimental paymaster, and also by the War Service Grants Committee, because of conditions over which the family has no control whatever. In the case of serious periods of detention, the allowances to some parents are stopped or reduced at a moment's notice. I submit that if the parents have had nothing to do with the circumstances of the detention, they ought still to be given the allowances. If a soldier commits an offence, he should accept responsibility for it, and his family should not be penalised. Because of this practice, families have to appeal to public assistance committees for help. Families cannot carry on when they have a reduction in their allowances, and they should not be made to suffer for circumstances over which they have no control. I submit that this matter should receive very careful consideration. In two of the four cases which have been brought to my attention, I find that the whole of the pay which has been deducted in error has had to be restored. I submit that this does not help to keep up the morale of our people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Beaumont) referred to dependants' allowances and war service grants. I would suggest an alternative method for dealing with these cases, which, I think, would give greater satisfaction to those concerned. When the first call-up notice is issued from the Ministry of Labour divisional office, why should a form not be sent to the man who is to join the Forces? If such a method were adopted, it would save a great deal of time, because the form could be filled up in anticipation and returned to the proper quarters. Instead of centralising the examination of these claims, why could they not be examined by officers at the local Assistance Board offices? They could be authorised to determine the claims on the spot, and a good deal of 1982 time would be saved. In cases which are not disputed, the officers of the Assistance Board could be given the same powers as they possess under the supplementary pension Regulations. A great deal of unnecessary correspondence which must take place between the War Service Grants Committee and the people concerned would be saved, and, undoubtedly it would give greater satisfaction.
Viscountess Astor (Sutton, Plymouth)
We have heard some very good speeches to-day, and, for my part, I wish to support what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite). It would be wrong, representing a constituency such as mine, if I did not raise my voice in protest against the Government's complete lack of vision in their treatment of men in reserved occupations and men in the Services. I do not blame the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Minister of Labour, but I do blame the Cabinet as a whole for the differences in pay. I believe that the Cabinet are entirely out of date and far behind the country in this matter. At the beginning of the war they said that this was to be a total war, and that they would see to it that no profits were made out of the war —they have done their best about that, and no one can say that a person who is left with only 6d. in the £ is not heavily taxed. But what has been the result? We have had speeches made by Ministers in which they have said that they do not care how much the workers make, so long as they turn out the stuff. Imagine the effect that has on families whose menfolk are serving in the Forces, who may, perhaps, be living next door to men who are in reserved occupations. I believe that it is an old trade-union point of view, and I do not believe that it is the young trade-union point of view. I am convinced that the younger men in the trade-union movement do not demand this difference in pay.
I hope that the Government will wake up before it is too late, because I am convinced that this difference is creating bitterness—the bitterness and the unfairness are simply appalling. In Plymouth, not a day goes by when someone is not lost; whenever a ship goes down there is nearly always some family which loses the breadwinner. I need not remind the House of the loss of the "Prince of 1983 Wales" and of the "Repulse." The loss of money is nothing compared with the loss of life, but, as has been said, this is a civilian war, and the civilian population who are fighting expect the House of Commons to give justice. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to put this point of view to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is asking for total sacrifice. He is not getting it, but I believe that the people are willing to give it. I will not go into individual cases, but I could give hundreds—recently I was sent a large cheque to help the most deserving cases. If you could see the most courageous women, left with large families on very limited pensions, living next door to a man who is, perhaps, bringing in £10 a week and who is living perfectly comfortably with his wife and family, you could not be satisfied.
I cannot understand the attitude of the Prime Minister, the attitude of the Cabinet, and the attitude of the House of Commons. I cannot understand any Member, no matter what his party, being satisfied with the present position. I do not expect perfection, but I do expect some modicum of justice. I am certain that the country is ahead of the Government in the matter, and I am certain that the men who are receiving these wages would be prepared, if you put it to them, to put back some of their money. I am certain that they are all prepared to do something to help the heroes who are daily sacrificing their lives. I ask the Government to consider this matter seriously. They are not in touch with the country —you cannot expect them to be—but we, who live in our constituencies and know the feelings of the country, must tell the Government what they should do. I do not think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is hard-hearted, although sometimes I think he is a little woolly-headed; I am sure that he is a brave and courageous man, and we expect him to take some action.
§ Captain Conant (Bewdley)
I find myself in special agreement with one of the observations made by the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. H. Beaumont), when he said that one of the major reasons why there were so few applications for Service grants was because the dependants thought the grants were charity. I believe that to 1984 be true, in spite of everything we have done to make it clear that these grants are not charity. That is why so many people who ought to be receiving grants are not making application, especially if they have been in much better circumstances before the war. The only answer is to go on explaining that this is not charity. While I welcome the introduction of these grants, I do not feel that that was the best method of dealing with the problem. The disparity between pay in the Services and in industry is not a new question. It has existed for many years, and I believe that in the last war the disparity was greater than it is to-day. But it is in some respects a problem which it is more urgent to deal with to-day than it was in the last war, because it is more noticeable. There are so many cases of civilians in reserved occupations who are performing exactly the same work as soldiers.
I can think now of two instances, but there are probably hundreds. One, of course, is transport driving. There is an enormous number of civilian transport drivers, driving military vehicles, on the same routes and for more or less the same hours as the soldiers. These civilian drivers are not subject to military law; if they refuse to carry out their orders, they can be sacked, but I think that normally if they are sacked, they are re-engaged the next morning. Soldiers are necessarily treated differently, and their rates of pay are very different. It seems either that civilian drivers should be conscribed, or the remuneration of the two categories put on the same basis. Another illustration that occurs to me is in the A.T.S., in which there are large numbers of civilian clerks and A.T.S. personnel working side by side in military offices. Under the legislation passed last week it is proposed to call up a certain proportion of the civilian clerks. It has been suggested, I do not know on what authority, that civil servants when called up will have their pay made up to what they were receiving before. If that should happen in the case of members of the A.T.S. and civilian clerks who have been working in the same offices, you would then have two categories in the A.T.S.—those who joined up voluntarily some years ago receiving the normal rate of pay; and those who resisted the Government's request to join up earlier, and waited till they were conscribed, having their pay made up to 1985 a higher rate, which would obviously be ludicrous.
These two cases serve to emphasise the great disparity which has always existed between those in reserved occupations and those in the Forces. It is not for me to suggest the answer. It is not much use saying what might have been done. At the outbreak of war industry could have been brought under military law, every employee given a military rank, and fixed rates of pay laid down. It might have been better if that had been done, but I do not think it can be done now. You have to consider the effect on production of any restriction of industrial wages, and you have to consider the effect on inflation of any substantial increase in the pay of Service men. That makes the problem very much more difficult. I feel that the solution lies on the lines suggested by the hon. and gallant Member, of some guaranteed annuity after the war, the giving of some credit to Service men, and possibly assistance in a number of other directions—free travelling warrants and so on. It is a question which concerns the trade unions, and it is for them to take account of Service men who were formerly their members and who will come back to membership when the war is over. Their responsibilities extend beyond those who are actually members at present. It is of the greatest importance that the gap between payment in the Services and payment in industry should be prevented from increasing. It existed at the beginning of the war, is very very much greater now, and is continuing to increase. Urgent steps should be taken to prevent that gap widening, otherwise there will be great difficulty and trouble after the war is over.
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
It may be the duty of the trade unions to look after their members serving in the Forces, but one cannot leave it there. It is the duty of Parliament to consider what are the proper and adequate rates of pay and allowances for State servants—because that is what they are, serving their King and country, and never let us forget it. Parliament cannot shift its responsibility, nor can the Government or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, simply by saying that what is asked for will cost a lot of money. Of course it will. What we are attempting to do is to stake out a claim for the Ser- 1986 vices just as other sections of the community have done for themselves. I hope the claim we are making for this unvocal and inarticulate section of the community will receive adequate consideration by the Government.
In regard to the administration of the Ministry of Pensions, I have no complaint to make, nor have I about the Minister, but I have a great complaint to make about the restrictive and limited policy inside which he has to work. I believe the machine is running smoothly so far as it is able, but we are asking that the revolutions of that machine shall be speeded up so that the output shall be more commensurate with the requirements of the consumers—that is, the Services. At present soldiers serving on what are termed normal engagements—that is in the Regular Army, but the point applies to the other Services too—are not receiving the same consideration as those who have joined for the duration of the war. The reason is that the soldier who joined for the duration, or who has been called up, had certain civil commitments, and the soldier who joined before the war did not have similar commitments, or if he had, he went into the Service with his eyes open. But to make that invidious distinction is not the right way to treat those who, after all, are doing the same work and bearing the same burdens for their country. Even if no satisfactory answer is given to-day to our demand for improved pay and allowances, I beg the Minister of Pensions, inside the already restricted Regulations which Parliament has laid down, to give more attention to the regular soldier, who in many cases is just as hardly hit as the temporary soldiers with whom we are dealing under the Command Paper 6318.
I should like to touch on the position of the junior married officer. I know that this matter has been raised before and it may not be such a popular subject in the House because the numbers are smaller than the vast majority of other ranks. There is, I am certain, a considerable hardship imposed on the junior married officer. I only wish my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air were here, or even the Minister, for I want to bring before the House, and I should like it to be brought before them, the really disastrous state of affairs that we have reached when 1987 we are considering the selection of candidates for commissions in the Air Force. This applies, although perhaps not to the same extent, to the Army as well. I have personal knowledge of a candidate for a commission in the Air Force who, when he was interviewed by the interviewing board, was asked, "What bank balance has your father, and what bank balance have you?" The candidate very rightly thought it was nothing to do with the interviewing board. He did not get his commission, and he is now a sergeant-pilot. The fact emerges that we are now selecting our commissioned ranks, at any rate in the Air Force, very largely on the size of their bank balances. I submit that this is a state of affairs which it is almost impossible to contemplate in a democracy such as ours. It may not be public knowledge and the questions may not be put so bluntly as I have stated them, but I have had experience of some of the interviewing boards in the Army, and similar questions are put, although in a different way. I suggest that the only way to avoid that, other things being equal in the candidate's qualifications, is to make the pay of the job sufficient so that any candidate, however humble his financial circumstances may be, can carry out that job and all the implications of the job.
§ The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Sandys)
The hon. Member has made very serious allegations against the method of choosing officers in the Forces. May we take it that he will give the Service Departments hard facts and a specific case in order that the matter may be investigated? I cannot believe that the statement he has made is accurate, and if it goes out it will be most misleading and cause a very unfortunate effect in the country.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I will not give the individual case because that will redound to the disadvantage of the person concerned, but I can assure my hon. Friend, who knows the questions which are put by some of these interviewing boards, for they constantly appear in the Press, that I can vouch for the case I have in mind. My hon. Friend must take my assurance that it is true. I am not going to prejudice this sergeant-pilot's future by giving the individual case to the Air 1988 Force. I say that those were the questions put by the interviewing board and the House must accept my assurance. I do not make wild statements. I purposely cited that case because I want to draw public attention to the kind of questions that are being put. I will not say that they are put in every case to an applicant for a commission, but I do know that they were put in this case.
§ Mr. Sandys
I must ask the hon. Member really to consider whether he will not give us these facts because the statement he has made is extremely damaging. If he will not give us the facts, it is unfair to make statements that cannot be examined. I am quite certain that any Service Department will give the hon. Gentleman a complete assurance that no harm will come to the person he mentions. It is in the public interest that these things should be looked into, and the House would expect the hon. Member to make, not in public but to the Department concerned, a clear statement which will enable them to examine the matter and see whether there is any foundation in the allegations.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Will my hon. Friend guarantee also that the commanding officer of the man's unit will adopt the same attitude as the War Office will adopt?
§ Mr. Sandys
If I say that we can guarantee that no harm will come to the hon. Member's informant, that carries with it a guarantee right the whole way down. If these allegations are correct, the question of disciplinary action against those responsible will also be considered.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The most I will say is that I will consider whether I can give any information about the case I have mentioned, not to my hon. Friend, because it is not his Department, but to the Air Ministry. I cannot say anything on that at the moment; I have too much knowledge of the value of War Office guarantees when it affects the future of individual officers. At any rate, I have made my statement and I stand by it. I do not think the House will say that I am an irresponsible Member. I have a considerable experience of the Services, and I should not have made that statement unless I had taken precautions to investigate it.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I say that candidates may not be always asked what their bank balances are, but there are certain questions which lead in the same direction. It is also clear that the "old school tie" method of selecting officers has not yet been eliminated from the Army.
In trying to substantiate my case to-day for an improvement in the pay and allowances of members of the Forces, I want to make what I hope the House will accept as a substantial comparison. I want to refer to the pay and allowances which members of the Canadian Forces serving in this country are drawing. We have a considerable contingent of the Canadian Forces in this country. They are serving in what are considered dangerous areas and they come into contact with a large number of British troops. The Canadian private gets I dollar 30 cents a day. At the present rate of exchange, 4.47 dollars to the pound, the private's pay in the Canadian Forces amounts to about 5s. 6d. a day. He does not draw the whole of that sum here; one-half is credited to his relations or any assignee in the Dominion; but the fact remains that his rate of pay is 5s. 6d. a day. Never let us forget that the Canadian Dominion has about one-sixth of the population of this country and that in wealth the comparison is even worse. The private in the British Forces gets 2s. 6d. a day when he is called up. After about six months' service, if he proves himself proficient and if his commanding officer does not forget to put his proficiency in Part II Orders, as many of them do, he gets another 6d. a day as proficiency pay. Let me remind the Financial Secretary that there are cases of men serving overseas and fighting our battles in Libya who have not drawn their proficiency pay merely because their commanding officer has not had either time or occasion to put it in Part II Orders. My hon. Friend need not ask me for particulars of that. Let him go to the pay offices and find out about it. He will find a number of cases. That is a statement I stand by, and when I have attempted to put it to the Secretary of State he has passed it off by saying, ''We cannot alter the system."
1990 The system of pay accounting in the Army is in a hopeless state of confusion in many respects and soldiers often do not get what they are entitled to. However, the private soldier in the British Forces draws 6d. a day extra after six months' service if he is proficient, bringing his pay up to 3s. If he has one year's service he gets an extra 3d. a day service pay, after two years' service an extra 6d. and after three years' service or more, Is. So the most he can get, unless he is a tadesman or specialist, is 4s. a day, compared with the 5s. 6d. paid to his Canadian brother who is fighting the same battles. I suggest that that is a gross inequality which could quite easily be remedied. Pay the British soldier what the Canadian Government pays to the Canadian soldier, and then we shall at any rate get no discrimination between the British Forces and the Dominion Forces.
Next let us consider what the wife of the Canadian soldier gets. The allowance paid by the Canadian Government is not very different from what is paid by the British Government, but the Canadian soldier has to make a larger allotment to his wife. A Canadian soldier's wife gets an allowance of 15 dollars a month and he allows her 20 dollars, which brings the allowance to 35 dollars. With the rate of exchange as it is at the moment the wife gets £3 10s. Government allowance a month, which is somewhat similar to what the wife of a British soldier gets. As regards children, the Canadian Government seem to take a much more humane view than do we in this country. The Canadian soldier is allowed 12.50 dollars per month for each child up to two children, and my estimate of the value is that he gets £2 15s. a month for each of the first two children, showing that the Canadian soldier's child is being far better treated than the British soldier's child.
Is it unreasonable to suggest to the Government that they should have regard to these rates of pay when considering the rates of pay of the British troops? It is not enough to say, and I am sure the House will not accept it, that what we are asking for will cost a lot of money. It will certainly cost a lot. If there is not the money in the Treasury with which to pay, then let the Government deal courageously with the whole economic system of the country, which is what they have never yet done. They have burked 1991 the issue every time it has been before us. They have issued their White Papers and the Trades Union Congress has said something, and then the Government have left it there. We want to get the best we can out of the pint pot. We know that the present limited system of economy under which we live will not provide us with more than a pint pot, but some of 'us would suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he will not be able to finance this war, or find the money which we are asking for our Forces, by the old outworn system of economy hitherto practised, and which, I say, is in danger of breaking down. It may be that the granting of all these legitimate demands for increases of pay by various sections of the community will help to bring about that state of affairs.
We warned the Government of what might happen if they did not pay attention to some of the measures we suggested before the war for reorganising our financial situation. I am not concerned with that issue primarily to-day, but I put that claim, the real claim, the legitimate claim, the equitable claim, of the men of the Forces. What do the Government offer? They have told us in the White Paper, and the Minister of Pensions has told the public on more than one occasion—in this respect I disagree with my hon. Friend who said that the Minister's modesty had prevented him from giving full publicity to the scheme— "This is the best we can offer." What do they offer? They offer something which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) has told us is the dole system. My right hon. Friend may smile at that.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The right hon. Gentleman is an old member of the British Legion. If there is one thing the British soldier does not want it is something that smells of charity even though it may not be charity. Where has he to go to get his rights? To the Assistance Board.
§ Mr. Bellenger
My right hon. Friend should not forget that the associations of 1992 the Assistance Board, linked as they have been in the past with the poor law, will not create the best possible impression in the minds of those who are forced, in order to get a 16s. minimum standard, or perhaps a little more, to lay before the Assistance Board officer and the Ministry of Pensions their whole pre-war standard of living and their commitments. A large number of the Government's own civil servants are in the Forces or going into the Forces. The Government do not say to them, "Tell us how many hire purchase agreements you have, and the amount of your life insurance policy." They say, "You will go into the Service with your full pay made up, taking into account the pay you draw from the Forces." In that way the Government admit the necessity of paying something approximating to the civil pay which the man was drawing before he joined the Forces. I suggest to the Government that they should carry that a bit further. They are throwing their own obligations on to the taxpayer, and in the case of private industry, throwing the obligations on to employers. Many employers are making up the wages of their men in the Forces and thereby, incidentally, escaping so much Excess Profits Tax, but that is not the right way of dealing with this matter. The right way. as some hon. Member has already said, is to give the right pay for the job, and we shall never be satisfied until we get it.
Another very serious feature of Army life is that soldiers are being used on a very considerable scale for certain tasks of civilian work. Thousands of them have been turned on to the land to help the farmers, and they are doing all sorts of demolition jobs in places which have suffered from air raid activities. I visualise the possibility of soldiers being more and more called upon to help civilian labour. What do they get for it? Not a penny extra. They are being utilised as a cheap form of labour to help civilian industry. I say in all seriousness that the more that system is practised— and I think the demand for Army labour will increase—the more likely we are to create in the Army a feeling which will tend to undermine the morale of the soldiers and cause considerable discontent. If that should happen it will be hopeless to talk of victory, because if we undermine the morale of the fighting forces we shall go a long way to ensure 1993 our defeat. I hope hon. Members will not think I am putting this point of view too extravagantly, but we must avoid discontent arising from having soldiers in uniform getting 2s. 6d. a day working next door to unskilled labourers drawing twice their emoluments.
I have very little more to say, but I would remind the House of something which may not generally be known, and that is that the War Service Grant is being used to subsidise not only members of the Armed Forces but also persons in civilian industry. Where a man is directed by the Ministry of Labour from one civilian job into another, he can, in certain circumstances, come under the War Service Grants Committee. The result is that a large part of the nation is being put upon a subsistence basis and given enough to keep them going and no more, while another large portion of the nation, both employers and men, is allowed to make whatever it can out of the national emergency.
I have no wish to depreciate wages but I am interested in what contribution —not in the narrow sense of pounds shillings and pence—every individual can make towards a speedy victory. Although hon. Members may think I am being a little fantastic, I suggest that if we were to let the Army, Navy and Air Force know that we were prepared to deal with them and their dependants upon an equitable basis, as compared with what men and women not under military discipline can get in civilian life, I believe they would be satisfied. Unless we put them upon the same basis as others who can wield powerful influences and, like trade unions and employers' organisations, can go to the Government and demand increases, many hundreds of thousands of men in the Armed Forces will feel that they are forgotten men. We shall cause them to think that their grievances cannot be dealt with in the same facile manner as those of their mates in the workshops. Although it may not be very vocal, there is a good deal of feeling of that sort in the Armed Forces. Hon. Members who are serving have already suggested this, although in more moderate language than mine, and the Minister, this House and the Government must not be under any misapprehension. Let us remember that the man who wishes to state his grievance in the Army has to ask for an interview with his officer before 1994 he can do so, and generally has to be accompanied by a non-commissioned officer. That is not the procedure in the workshops. I hope that the case which has been presented by hon. Members today will be considered and dealt with in a different manner from that which was adopted when the subject was previously under discussion in this House.
§ Mr. Sutcliffe (Royton)
I believe that hon. Members will agree with some of the statements of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) although not with all. The hon. Member has been accustomed to taking part in most of our Debates on the war and often he has had some rather violent things to say. It strikes one that he rather ferrets out the odd case where something has gone wrong, or some dissatisfaction has been caused, and brings it before the House, but that he fails to mention thousands of cases where things go well and where there is no just or legitimate grievance.
I am sure the country will welcome this Debate. It is about two months since we last had a Debate on this question. During that Debate several concessions were announced by the Minister of Pensions. It was then announced that the maximum payment of war service grants would be raised to £3 instead of £2, and increases were made for wives and other dependants. Pleased as the country was with those improvements, there is ample scope for further substantial improvements, and I think these can be made without changing the basis of the scheme. It is on this aspect of the matter that I hope to say a few words. The hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut-Commander Braithwaite) raised a very cogent plea for the better remuneration of the Service man and he was supported by other Members. I fully agree with what he said, but it is doubtful whether it is possible to adopt his suggestions at this stage. The whole scheme has been Settled by the War Cabinet and I imagine it would be difficult to undo it now and to bring the wages and payment of Service men up to the level of industrial wages, or to some comparable level. There are many other ways however in which the lot of the Service man can be bettered.
In all the complaints one hears about allowances one never hears a word said against the Minister of Pensions, and I would like to pay a tribute to him for all 1995 the work he has done. He has genuinely and carefully taken up the question of increased allowances and pensions of every sort. One has only to read the letters that we receive from him in reply to cases put to him to find out that he is most careful in his administration of the whole scheme. The country feels confidence in- him. The complaint is against the inadequacy of the allowances as a whole. On 16th October last, he announced that the sum required to pay for the new scale of war grants would be double the previous amount, and he said he hoped that there would be so many new applications that the total yearly sum needed to pay them would be about £13,500,000. However, the total has not yet come to anything like that sum, and I would like to emphasise what was said by the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. H. Beaumont), that this discrepancy is due to the fact that people do not yet know how to apply. In the case of the Service man the facts are not sufficiently brought before him, and in the case of women—wives and dependants—they do not realise how to go about the matter. Many do not realise that they are entitled to more money. A great deal more could be done by advertising and by telling the people how to make application.
I do not think the War Service Grants Committee works too generously even with what they are able to do on the basis laid down. I know that the whole system has been speeded up, but there are still complaints about delay. If the scheme were worked more rapidly and more generously we should hear a great deal less about the claims for increased pay. I think several improvements are possible. The present allowance to a wife without children is 18s, and in addition there is an allotment of 7s.from the husband. In my view, the allotment from the husband should be reduced to 3s. 6d., and at the same time the State should take the responsibility for the payment to every wife of a serving man of a definite standard rate of 25s. a week, to which the 3s. 6d. allotment would be added. Thus half of the 7s. now allotted would remain for the man to spend, and would go some considerable way towards his claim for increased pay.
Again, there is the question of proficiency pay, which a man receives 1996 presumably for being proficient, for doing harder work than some of the others, or perhaps for being more intelligent. I should like to see him retain the whole of his proficiency pay. It seems all wrong that the State should in effect take a part to reduce the amount of the wife's allowance payable by it. Another point concerns money over-paid to a soldier by some mistake. There are all too many cases in which this happens. Through a perfectly genuine error money is overpaid to a soldier or to his dependants and afterwards a claim is suddenly received for this money to be repaid. It is very difficult for the man or his dependants to repay this money when they have settled their commitments, even though it is only at the rate of a shilling or two a week. It is a demoralising strain on their resources, and I would urge that in such cases the man or his dependants should be allowed to keep the over-payments. After all, it is no fault of theirs; it is the fault of the administration. There is also the question of acting rank. Men are placed in a higher rank because they are efficient, and if as acting n.c.o. they do the work, they ought to have the pay of that rank.
I would like now to turn again for a moment to this question of dependants' allowances as it affects mothers. Members receive more correspondence on this than on any other point, and it is the greatest source of hardship. Some of the cases are pathetic, and the women have to go through considerable mental anxiety. I know that the position has been improved recently, but there is still room for more improvement. If one goes into their homes one can see their anxiety how they are to make both ends meet, and it is really is a grievous thing, especially in the case of widows living alone. Their sons are away and in many cases they feel that there is no one to whom they can turn for help or advice. What is going to happen in the case of those mothers who get employment because the State has asked them to do so, not because they want to work or primarily to earn money—in some cases it will be detrimental to their health—but simply because they feel it is their duty to respond to the appeal that has been made to them to help in the war effort? Will their allowances continue to be cut automatically in proportion to the amount they are earning? That seems to be a 1997 question which should be dealt with, especially at this time when we have just asked so many women to return to the factories.
I would go so far as to say that in such cases mothers should be treated in the same way as wives and should have a definite allowance, irrespective of the fact that they now have a job when they did not have one before. A great deal of uneasiness will be caused if the women who go back into the factories are to have their allowances cut simply because they are earning money at the moment. It would certainly cost the State more to grant mothers an allowance in the same way as one is granted to wives, but I think it would be worth it. After all, what I am suggesting are ways of improving the lot of the Service men, and if it does cost more it will only be a fraction of what is being spent every week and every month in the war effort. At the moment we are spending so much money on machines. It is out of proportion to the amount we spend on the men and women who are fighting in the Services and who have dependants at home. Let us try to equalise the position, and it will go a long way towards meeting most of the complaints we hear.
There is still a good deal of trouble arising from the administrative machine. I have mentioned delays, but there is sometimes lack of sympathy when visits are made to the homes. There are cases of carelessness in which the figures are taken down wrongly—I have had at least two cases to my own knowledge—by those who carry out the interviews, as a result of which no allowance was granted. Such mistakes do seem to be unnecessary. It is also true that there are still too many forms to fill in, and I think we should make them as simple as we possibly can.
We have now reached the calling-up of the 41 to 51 class. These are mostly men who served in the last war; and many of this class joined up again voluntarily at the beginning of the war. I think that in some cases they have had a raw deal. Some of them were passed AI when they joined up for the second time and have since been invalided out, not as a result of fighting but simply because they are unable now to stand the rigours of life in the Armed Services. If in such circumstances no pension has been 1998 granted to them I think they have reason to feel a grievance. It is said in such cases—every hon. Member has had many of them—that the man had some form of ill-health which was not noticeable when he was examined but which had cropped up again, and their breakdown was due to that and not to their Army service.
I think these cases are very hard, and I mention them particularly now because of the great numbers of such men in the 41 to 51 age-groups. I do urge that the most stringent medical examination should be made in every case. This is a very vital matter. There are many cases where an old war injury might not be noticed. Those who were badly gassed, for instance, in the last war—I know it all too well—in the summer may appear perfectly all right, but as soon as winter comes along, with its east wind and fog, the old lung trouble crops up again. For those and all others who did go through the last war I would urge that there should be especial care. Many of the 41–51 group will be eminently suitable for sedentary work; many of them will be suitable for placing in the pay offices. I believe there is a shortage of clerks in these large Service pay offices, and many of the men of those ages could be used to release younger men for the Fighting Services. Attention has been drawn today to numbers of men who were just too young for the last war who are engaged now in the Ministry of Information and in other similar work. These men will, so to speak, miss the fighting in both wars. A real opportunity exists to-day of putting these men of the 41–51 age-groups in the place of those in that category.
Finally, let us make the best use we possibly can of existing machinery for these war service grants. Let us urge upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer— he has already come in for some knocks to-day—that he must be more generous with the allocation of funds for these war service grants. I would urge the heads of the Fighting Services to sweep away anomalies, red tape, delays and so on, and administer the scheme in a less grudging manner. If as I hope, some of these suggestions are taken up by the Government, I am sure it will make a considerable difference to the fighting men and their dependants, and will go a long way towards giving them that happiness which 1999 we all wish them to have, in the knowledge that their dependants are being looked after in a manner worthy of this country at war.
§ Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)
This is the second occasion within two months on which the House has debated this subject. Having had some little experience of the House, I think it is always at its best on great human questions of this kind, of which we all have some little knowledge, and about which, particularly these days, our constituents keep us very well posted. The Government hardly took the last occasion so seriously I am very glad that on this occasion they have taken it seriously. We have had representatives of the Services here, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has favoured us with his presence. I admire the Chancellor of the Exchequer for many things, but he never does anything, in my experience, without very good reason. It is quite obvious that he has favoured us with his presence to-day because he wants to feel the pulse of the House, and to see what strength and authority there are behind this demand for increased pay and allowances. I hope that he will have noted that in all parts of the House there has been almost universal agreement that while the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Pensions has provided in the War Service Grants Committee scheme what is, on the whole, a vast improvement, it does not get down to rock bottom and deal with the question which we all have in mind.
It is quite right to keep that scheme in force to deal with exceptional cases, but it does not deal, in any measure, with the complaints which a great majority of us in the House have to make under present conditions. I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after hearing all the speakers, will take the matter to heart and take note of the feeling, and will see what can be done to increase these basic rates of pay and allowances. The previous Debate also served a useful purpose in a number of respects. It will be remembered that there was a good deal of prophesying as to the delay which would take place, and as to the difficulty with forms and so forth. There was also a very strong opinion, expressed in all parts of the House, that these forms should be available at post offices. In all these matters, what was said in the House has 2000 been taken to heart by the Government, and changes have taken place. The procedure has, undoubtedly, been simplified and delays have been at any rate greatly reduced. Although the Minister of Pensions said that the idea of having forms at post offices was definitely ruled out, yet as we all know the Post Office has given way apparently without very much difficulty and the forms are now available at every post office. In that respect, all of us who have gone into this matter in some detail, should pay our tributes to the Minister for the efforts he has made to meet the wishes and desires of the House in what are, it is true, comparatively minor matters. It is clear that this is one of those matters on which the House desires and is entitled to express an opinion, of which the Government ought to take note.
We ought to pay a tribute to the Minister's staff. I have, like other hon. Members, had the opportunity of visiting their workshop, so to speak, and I cannot speak too highly of their methods and enthusiasm and the general spirit of helpfulness which seems to prevail from top to bottom. There are one or two rather disturbing features of the scheme into which I would like to go. I was very much surprised to find that applications were so small in number. I think the Minister probably was equally surprised. Every one of us expected, two months ago, some hundreds of thousands of applications. Indeed, the Government estimate was based on such a figure, whereas—I do not know whether I am disclosing a secret—only some 70,000 fresh applications or thereabouts have been received to date. They are coming in at the rate of something over 10,000 a week. Quite clearly, many of us overestimated the number of married men or of men who had dependants. No doubt also, quite a large number of those who would otherwise be entitled are working on munitions. I think the most important reason is that already mentioned in passing—that the fact that these grants are available has not been made known widely enough, and, in particular, to the men in the Services. In that matter, the Service Departments have been appallingly slack. The War Office were the first to issue instructions upon how to apply. They issued an Army Council instruction on 20th November—five weeks after the Debate in this House, and more 2001 than five weeks after the issue of the White Paper. An order was issued by the naval authorities on 22nd November. The Air Ministry—may I say that the Under-Secretary of State for Air apologised to me for not being present to-day as he has another engagement?—did not issue instructions until 9th December, seven or eight weeks after particulars were given in the White Paper. It makes one despair. If it is to take from five to seven or eight weeks for the Service Departments to give instructions on comparatively minor matters like this—instructions which could be drawn up by any competent draftsman in a couple of days at most—what is the state of things in regard to other matters? I should like an explanation of that delay.
As has been said, for the most part, the scheme has worked well, within the limits of the White Paper, but, in my view at any rate, the unit figures of 16s. and 8s., respectively, are too low. On any test, 16s. is insufficient for the keep, clothing, amusement, newspapers and other things which have to be paid for. I was looking only a few days ago at the Bristol Survey of 1936, which many people consider the most accurate survey at our disposal of the cost of living. The figures show quite clearly that, allowing for the increase in the cost of living to-day, £I a week is the minimum figure upon which an adult person can be expected to live, excluding rent, rates, insurance and so forth. That is the minimum figure, assuming that the person gets the best possible value for money and shops in the cheapest market at the cheapest time of the day, buying meat, for example, in the markets on Saturday evenings. I should like the Chancellor of the Exchequer to note that obviously 8s. a. week is too little to keep a child. The Government billeting allowance for a child of 10 or under is 10s. a week, and even then parents have to supply clothes and so forth.
Our main criticism is that the basic pay and allowances are not adequate. They make recourse to the War Service Grants Committee the rule, instead of the exception. No one on the Government side could attempt to justify the allowance of 25s. a week paid to the wife of the lowest paid soldier if she has domestic responsibilities or children. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to attempt to justify that 2002 figure. Still less can anyone attempt to justify the figures of 7s. 6d., 5s. 6d. and 4s. for the first three children. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, from her experience of billeting, could give the right hon. Gentleman some valuable information regarding the total inadequacy of those sums for the maintenance of growing children. We must see that adequate allowances are paid. Here is one of many letters which I have received on the subject. I received it only a day or two ago. The writer, who writes from Stockport, says:I had my own small business, and I have never been out of work or had the dole. Now at 35 I am in the Army, business gone, and getting 10s. per week. My wife and child get 38s.6d.a week. It used to be 32s. 6d. Yet my private house rent and expenses, insurance, etc., cost over £2 a week, before you think of food. My wife has recently had to go out to work. She could not manage any longer on the paltry Army allowance, and we do not like the idea of means test form filling up for a degrading few shillings.Later on he says—and I call the attention of the Government to this—All the while I am in the Army I am unhappy, restless, and worried over the unjust state of affairs. My daughter, aged five, just starting school, has to be rushed out in the morning to a neighbour's house who looks after her until school time and gives her a meal at dinner time, and again minds her after school until my wife comes home. We pay 7s.6d.a week for this help. We would not mind doing this if we felt that there were more equal justice in these hard times, but we see on every hand that there is not.That sort of case is repeated by hundreds and thousands. I assert that there is no answer to the claim I have made, that 25s. for a wife with domestic responsibilities, and 7s. 6d., 5s. 6d. and 4s. respectively for children are not sufficient amounts. Last time the tight hon. Gentleman spoke of the cost. That, no doubt, is the principal, if not the only, deciding factor. I will not reiterate what my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. H. Beaumont) said about the suggested scale that he put forward, with which I entirely agree. I have not the information to calculate how much it would cost to adopt those rates, but my own estimate is very much less than that of the hon. Member for Batley and Morley, because the Government would save a great deal on the subventions they are now paying to civil servants who are unable to carry on, on 2003 their present pay and allowances. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to have that figure very closely examined. My own view is that the cost would be about £50,000,000. That is a large sum, no doubt; but it is very small in comparison with the total cost of our war effort. If the figure were £75,000,000, it would represent only six days' expenditure on the war. The cost is an excuse, and not a valid objection.
The first essential for winning the war is to have keen, active, and alert men in the Armed Forces. They must have the highest morale and develop the highest qualities of courage and initiative. It is useless to spend hundreds of millions upon munitions of war if the men who require to have these qualities are not happy and content. It is essential that this cost should be incurred, in order to ensure those qualities in the men. This matter should be a primary charge upon our finances. The war is fairly well advanced —at least we hope so—and great savings have already been effected, by the small amounts that have hitherto been paid. The Army, Navy and Air Force are now, and will be in the next few months probably, passing through their greatest test and it would be well worth while to see that they are adequately paid and that their allowances are sufficient. I hope that the Government, during the Recess, will take this matter into serious consideration, and that, if there is no alteration, the House will again have the matter under discussion and bring sufficient pressure upon the Government to ensure our proposals being carried into effect.
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
I wish to make it quite clear to hon. Members that I am not trying to wind up the Debate. I feel that it is desirable to intervene at this time, however, to deal with some of the points which have been put by hon. Members, so as to save repetition afterwards and so perhaps clear away some misunderstandings. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal will make a short statement at the end of the Debate, and I will take note of any speeches that are made meantime and give consideration to any suggestions that are put forward. There is one thing that I must say: I have no complaint whatever to make about the 2004 tone and temper of this Debate. Particularly I wish to pay a tribute to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. H. Beaumont), who opened the Debate. I know that he takes a very deep interest in service men's questions and has for a considerable time been secretary to the servicemen's committee of his own party. He has a thorough grip of the whole position and knows a good deal more about it than many hon. Members who are sometimes more vocal.
Let me first clear away one or two misunderstandings. The hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Anderson) made statements which are absolutely out of date. If he had been a member of that Servicemen's committee he would not have made them, and it would have been better if they had not been made. He is altogether wrong in his statements with reference to the treatment of men from distressed areas. I had to intervene to put him right. I refer to hard cases, in which, as I have said before in this House, under the old system, you took a comparison between the pre-Service income and the new Service income. These are the cases of the unfortunate people who had been unemployed for some time and who received very low wages—in some cases far below the wage rates. Unless there was an improvement, it meant that those families would be on the verge of poverty throughout the war. I recognised that fact early on in my preparation of this particular scheme—I am speaking of the first scheme—and I had the matter altered, so as to leave the present income at the amount the man would have been earning if he had been in employment. Nothing could be more fair than that. As to the position of apprentices, recognising that when they finished their apprenticeship, the men would be able to earn the recognised rates of wages, we raised our standard. Therefore, there is no penalty on the man who was unemployed before he entered the Service, nor is there any penalty on a man because he has come from a depressed area.
The hon. Member asked whether we should allow the inspectors or officers of the Assistance Board to decide what a grant should be. He said that the public had a strong objection to the Assistance Board having anything at all to do with the matter. In my experience, the men employed by the Assistance Board and 2005 who carry out this work for us have indeed done a very good job of work. Anybody who is Sufficiently interested is welcome to come to my Department and take samples from the vast number of cases with which we have to deal. It will be found that the reports from the Assistance Board officials are not only sympathetic but biased in favour of the applicant for a grant rather than the other way about, and I must pay that tribute to these officers and to their work.
Several speakers have paid tribute to my staff and the manner in which they dealt with the large number of revisions and applications. I would like to add some words of commendation of my own, because I value greatly the services that they have rendered to me. Reference was made to the paymasters' delay, and I want to make it clear that, while it may have been the charge levelled against some of the paymasters in the early days of the war and during the change-over from the peace-time system to the wartime system now we as a Department have no complaint against the paymasters themselves. The order has been issued from the War Office—and I have no doubt in the other Services—that application forms, when referred to the paymasters, must be returned to my Department within 48 hours. I do not say that that order has been carried out in every instance but it has in most instances.
Reference was made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) to the question of the Service Departments publishing their notices at a late date. I will tell him exactly what happens. We are not laying blame upon the Service Departments. These instructions were issued at once. What the hon. and gallant Member has in mind is the reminder sent out to "ginger-up" things so that there could be no question of anybody not being informed. As to the question of publicity, surely it is well known to hon. Members that I broadcast on this question—and doubtless millions of people listened in to the broadcast—and that the newspapers, when we had a very interesting Debate on a former occasion, gave wide publicity to it. Some newspaper editors were wise enough to send their reporters to see me, realising that they would be doing a service to the public by making widely known how the scheme 2006 would apply and what had to be done in filling up the forms. In accordance with suggestions made during that Debate, I wiped away the old form altogether and produced the present form containing only four simple questions. It is one of the simplest forms it is possible for any Government Department to issue. We laid it down emphatically to members of the Services that this was not a charity but was within their rights and was granted by Parliament itself out of national funds. We have done everything possible to make the scheme known, and certainly to make known that it is not a charity but a right for which the men can apply.
I come to the question of why there have not been more applications. I am speaking with some experience of these matters and I have not merely taken the word of my officials, nor have I got my knowledge from an officer who could only report what the man says when the man comes to him accompanied by a sergeant and perhaps does not want to say too much. I have my information from the men direct. I have ways and means of knowing, and I can assure hon. Members that the reason why applications have been so small, compared with what was expected, is because there is not the real hardship that many of us expected to find. It is not because the men do not know about it; it is talked about in every canteen and messroom throughout the Services. I have given men lifts in my car and, without revealing my identity, have said, "What do you think about your position?" and reply has been "The issue of free travelling warrants is the best thing that was ever done; we have no worries now about our families." I have heard that from many.
§ Sir W. Womersley
No, I did not. Reference has been made to my connection with the British Legion. I am proud of that. I have also sought my information from soldiers' wives and families in my constituency, as, no doubt, other Members have done. I am bound to admit freely that in the old scheme there were many things that wanted putting right, and I felt that I ought to get them all together and make a complete job, at one stroke, if I could. The discussion 2007 to-day is not altogether justified by these new War Service Grants. It is rather an opportunity to give an account of the work up to date. The hon. Member for Batley and Morley said he intended to steal some of my thunder by quoting some of the figures which he obtained when he did me the honour of visiting my Department to see what was being done. I would like to assure him and others that I did not have the slightest hope that he would change his views on the principles of this matter but I was anxious that he should see exactly how the scheme was being worked, what the administration was like and, above all, the wonderful response I have had from my staff. He described my scheme as a "Womersley baby" and that could not have been more appropriate because a Womersley baby came into the world just after the scheme was announced. He is a lusty young man, very proud of his father who is serving in the Forces and I hope he will grow up to be as good as his grandfather. So we have two lusty babies, who have just been launched into the world.
As regards this scheme, justification for the claims I make must come from results and not from speeches made by myself or anyone else. I submit that in spite of what I am able to tell Members to-day it is really too early to come to a final judgment. I want to see this scheme given a reasonable chance. I do not ask for more than that; I am prepared to be judged on the results that are revealed—
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
How long does the right hon. Gentleman want? We have heard him say that before.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The hon. Member must be a little patient. If I get three months—[An HON. MEMBER: "YOU will deserve it."]—Well, some deserve 12 months' hard labour but do not get it. So far, all the Service Departments agree that we are meeting deserving cases of hardship and I think they hold the same view as I do—that the scheme should have a fair trial.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
How is it possible for the cases of soldiers who are serving in the Near East and the Far East to be dealt with?
§ Sir W. Womersley
Quite easily. All these forms have been put into, and advertised in, post offices. There has been a complaint about the size of the advertisements, but by a regulation of the Post Office not more than a certain amount of space is allowed. We have taken up the maximum amount of space with black-and-white advertising, because we think it clearer and I do not favour the suggestion that the advertising matter should be in yellow. The fact is that hundreds of thousands of these forms have been applied for but only a certain number have been filled and sent in. It has been stated many times that the wives of men serving abroad and on His Majesty's ships can apply and we will deal with their application. We are getting applications from the wives of men who are serving in the East.
When I have given the figures of the actual work that has been done, I think hon. Members will agree with me that my staff deserves the fullest possible praise. They do not get extra pay; it is their human enthusiasm which has enabled me to carry on this work so satisfactorily. I want to pay a public tribute to them. They are heart and soul with myself and my Parliamentary Secretary in this job. We said to them "This is your war work. Remember that the wife or child of some serving man may be suffering hardship and will continue to suffer hardship until they get a grant. If you get on with your job quickly you can relieve that hardship." I am glad to say that they have responded loyally to that appeal. They have worked on Saturday afternoons and Sundays and we have had the assistance of an astonishing number of volunteers from other Departments who have given their services freely and willingly to help us in this matter.
What has been the result? When the new scheme was submitted to this House on 16th October the number of grants which had to be revised was over 200,000. In every case the Department had to make a fresh calculation. Here may I say that thousands have voluntarily given up their grants because they have taken up employment. I would like also to pay a tribute to the women of this country. Over 10,000 grants have been voluntarily surrendered and letters such as this have come to the Department: 2009I have now entered into employment. I am earning good wages and I do not wish to be any further burden on my country.I think this is splendid. It shows that, whatever people may say, the women of this country are not out to get all they can out of the Government, although they certainly want their hardship relieved. The Parliamentary Secretary previously stated that it was hoped all the reviews would be completed by Christmas. Actually, we completed the reviews in six-weeks, that is to say, by the end of November, with the exception of some very difficult cases. I mention that exception because it is always possible that some of those cases may come to the notice of hon. Members and they may say that the reviews are not completed. Those difficult cases arise out of rather small circumstances. For instance, one of the most difficult sorts of case we have to deal with arises when the wife changes her address but prefers to continue to draw the allowance at the same post office and does not notify the post office or us of the change of address. We send a new book to her at the old address, and of course, it comes back from the dead letter office; we have then to write to the post office to try to find out where she has gone and we have to wait until the woman comes in for the next week's money and the post office asks her where she lives. Such delays have occurred, and they are neither our fault nor that of the post office. Again, there is difficulty in the case of new applications containing inaccurate statements.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I have said that they are exceptional cases. Generally there is good reason for any delay which occurs, and if there is not good reason, and if the fault is with my Department, we take right and proper action, because we are determined in these matters not to have any avoidable delay. Of course, in a big Department of this sort, it is always possible that there will be slips now and again. I have already informed hon. Members, in reply to a Question, that as a result of the review that we made of the old awards, two-thirds of the cases have received increases, and the average grant has been increased from 10s. 6d. to 17s. 6d. a week in cases where grants were already being received. Our work during 2010 the last six weeks has not been limited to reviewing old cases. We have had to deal with new claims as well, and I am glad to say that these have been dealt with very promptly, and that we are able to say, to-day, that since 16th October, quite apart from the reviewed awards, the new awards that have been made number 56,000. Moreover, many of those who were rejected in the past made fresh claims under the new scheme, and since 16th October, 18,300 cases of this sort have been dealt with and 15,000 awards made. I submit that these results show that the Department can, at any rate, handle a big job. I submit, further, that the small number of applications coming in show that there is not the hardship which many of us thought there was. I agree with hon. Members that the applications are bound to increase in number as the older classes of men are called up. I agree that those who are now being called into the Services, being of an older age, have commitments which the younger men have not. The war service grants were instituted to deal with these cases, and to deal with them adequately.
In passing, I want to mention the reference that was made to the case of a man who had a business of his own. One hon. Member read a letter about that case, and I would like to investigate the matter, without any detriment to the man, of course, so that we may find out what is the position. But I want to mention that recently we have had similar cases to deal with. I have in mind one case of a man who alleged that in his business he was earning £9 a week, and who asked for a war service grant to balance it. He was a young officer. As he had been his own employer, we could not go to an employer to verify the figure he gave. We did not send a man to see him, but we wrote asking him whether he would kindly let us have, as a private matter, his Income Tax return, and said that we would accept that without question as a proof of his income. He would not send it. He had been doing one of two things—either he had been defrauding the Revenue when earning that sum of money, or he had been trying to mislead us. He said that if we were going to have all that nonsense, we had better send the papers back, and he would write to his Member of Parliament. I am sure hon. Members will agree that my duty 2011 is, first of all, to the serving men, their wives, and families, but I have also another duty, and it is my duty to the general public to see that those who receive these grants really have a right to them and are not simply getting easy money.
Objection has been made on the grounds of the alleged means test. A good deal of prejudice is caused by the use of the words "means test." I want to make it clear that our investigation is not a means test in the sense that those words are usually understood. We are less concerned with the money that is going into the household—money from the Service Departments, and, therefore, readily ascertainable—than with the financial obligations which the family have to meet. How can we ascertain what are the financial obligations unless we ask certain questions? If that can be described as applying a means test, then I must confess that I do not know what is the real meaning of the term. It must be borne in mind that, with a scheme such as that which I am now operating, and which provides a minimum subsistence-figure, reference must be made to the other resources of the person concerned, but I assure hon. Members that our definite instructions are that there is to be no inquisitorial investigation, and if hon. Members will come to the Department and take haphazardly reports made by the investigating officers, I am sure they will agree with me that there is no such thing as an inquisition when those officers visit the people concerned. They try to help the people. For instance, there was a case of a woman who had entered on her form that her husband, before joining the Forces, was earning £2 a week. That sounded ridiculous. That man had also sent in a form stating that he had been earning £4 10s. a week. An investigating officer had to go to see the woman, and she said, "That is what he told me." That is one of the exceptional cases we have to deal with, and it shows why we have to make inquiries. We saw to it in that case that £4 10s. was the figure put down. I want to clear up this matter absolutely, because I do not want it to be thought that my Department makes anything like a means test in the examination of these cases. But we have to ascertain what are the commitments, 2012 because otherwise we are not able to meet them.
As a result of my experience in dealing with the scheme so far, and my long experience in dealing with war service grants, I submit to the most confirmed advocates of a flat-rate increase in allowances that they should consider whether such an increase would really meet the position. What would happen to that vast number of young married women, having no children, no obligations, getting from the Services the full allowances to which they have a definite right, it may be living with their parents, and working? Would they be given more money on top of that? Could that be justified to anybody in this country? I will tell hon. Members what would happen if there were a flat-rate increase. There would be violent protests from the married women with obligations about women living next door, young things that have just got married, who get 25s. a week from the Army, and £3 10s. a week from some good job. They would ask, "Are these young women to be given more money on top of that?" They would say, "What about us?"
§ Sir W. Womersley
Surely we have that in this scheme inasmuch as we say to that woman that if something happens to her, if she has a child, if she is sick, and is not at work, she can come on to our grants. We meet the contingencies, but if such a woman is able to work and carry on, and has enough money to live comfortably, why should she expect the public to find the other money.
I have said all along that the only sound way is to give what money we can spare to those who are most in need. Take the case of a heavy rent. What would be the position if we had an all-round increase? Under this scheme I insisted that rent, rates and other such commitments should be met first. A -woman, living in the suburbs of London, Leeds or any other big city, may have to pay as much as 22s. 6d. per week for rent. On the other hand, a woman living in the country in a labourer's; cottage would have to pay about 5s. per week for rent. There is a tremendous difference, and how are you to deal with that position by a flat-rate increase? Are you to give the 2013 woman who has to pay a small rent just as much as the woman who has to pay a large rent? Surely my scheme is much better, because we take these differences into account.
We had a case the other day of a woman who was being sued by her landlord because she owed a considerable amount of rent. That woman was not entitled to a grant under the old scheme because of her pre-service income. A large proportion of the arrears of rent had accumulated before her husband joined the Service. The woman was left in a difficult position. Through the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mrs. Adamson), who called my attention to the case, we made it known to those responsible that under the new scheme this woman would be entitled to a favourable amount of money. Because of that, and because of her promise to pay off a little each week, those concerned did not attempt to dispossess her of her home. That case shows the advantage of the new scheme over the old. I am willing to admit that the old scheme was not so good. I submit that this scheme ought to be given a reasonable and a fair trial, because I believe that it meets the situation. Take the case of a woman who is sick. Under the new scheme who can pay the doctor's bill and expenses. This scheme is administered directly by my regional officers, and there is no delay. Already we have had a number of such cases. How would a flat-rate increase deal with that problem? Then there are the funeral grants.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I will deal with that point later. Funeral grants have already been made. I had a conversation with a Member of Parliament not so very long ago, and I am afraid that some hon. Members do not realise what can be done under this new scheme. I suggest that it would be wise for hon. Members to read the White Paper again. An hon. Member, during the Debate today, I will not mention his name, because he may think that I am attacking him, and I would not attack anyone; but I would defend myself if I was attacked— mentioned half-a-dozen different matters which have all been dealt with under the 2014 new scheme. I hope that hon. Members will go into these matters more fully, because I am satisfied that, if they do so, they will realise that this scheme is a very big step forward in meeting what we all desire, and that is to see that our Service men's wives and families are not left in any distress of any kind. No doubt, in the course of this Debates suggestions will be made. I shall listen to them with very great interest, because I do not wish to be father or god-father of a scheme which will not work properly. I am as keen as any hon. Member to help the Service men, the ex-Service men, the wives and families of those serving and those who have suffered any disability.
Let me sum up what has been my experience with the new scheme so far as it has operated. The evidence that I receive from all sources shows that the men are more concerned about what is happening to their wives, children and dependants than they are about their own pay. It will be a good thing if we can remove the grievances about travelling warrants, and some of those other grievances which my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) mentioned. My hon. Friend asked a question in regard to men who were in the Army before the war commenced—the professional soldiers. That matter presents great difficulties when you have a scheme which takes into account the pre-Service income and the in-Service income. The regular soldier was serving before the war, and he has certain rights and privileges, but he has not the same responsibilities as the men who are called up from civil life. I have been discussing this matter for some considerable time. The number of professional soldiers is very small compared with the number of men in the Armed Forces, but, if we can do anything to meet the position, I think that it will be a good thing. I cannot make any statement to-day, but I will give the matter my careful consideration. I will repeat once again, that from my experience the men are not so much concerned about their own pocket money as for their wives, children and dependants. Many of these men keenly desire that their widowed mothers shall be treated fairly, and under this new scheme they are receiving that treatment.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I had a letter yesterday from the Minister concerning a widow whose son had been killed. It is stated that on the evidence she has made out there appears to be a good case for a pension, and that if, unfortunately, she should fall into penury, she will get a pension.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The hon. Member is dealing with pensions, but I am referring to allowances. I am prepared to meet the hon. Member and deal with his point on the appropriate occasion, but the question of an all-round pension for everyone, whether rich or poor, is nonsense. In my view, it would be a great mistake to grant these extra allowances to young wives without children, who are working and living at home, and who are not in need of the extra allowances. Indeed, there is no demand for them, and we have received no complaints. I am satisfied that the sickness benefits and the provisions in regard to rent and funerals have met cases of hardship. I will report to the House on a later occasion how these schemes are working. They have been operating for a short time only, but already they have been of great use to many families. It might be said, "Your report is good so far, but what of the future?" My answer is, "Give this scheme a fair trial, and do not come to any decision on the matter until it has been given a trial."
I have listened with very great interest to the speeches to-day, and I have an open mind. I am prepared at any time to discuss this or any other scheme that I operate, in the light of experience and advice tendered with some substance of fact behind it. I am always open to discuss these matters with hon. Members personally or with the Services Committee, the British Legion Committee or any other bodies interested in Service men's questions, and wherever it is found necessary to make reasonable amendments, I shall not hesitate to approach the Chancellor and not merely ask but demand that the money shall be forthcoming.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
Do we understand that the Minister is sitting down without answering nine-tenths of the questions that have been put to him?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I was not winding up the Debate. I am here as the Minister responsible for administering war service grants, and I think I have dealt with my Departmental responsibilities pretty fully. I made a definite promise that I would not exceed a certain length of time, and I knew that others wanted to speak. The hon. Member had better have a little patience and wait for the reply.
§ Captain Grey (Berwick-on-Tweed)
After some five months of attendance I am venturing for the first time to address the House, and I hope hon. Members will accord me the generous tolerance and leniency of treatment that are apposite on such occasions. I should like to express my gratification that this subject of Service pay and allowances is before us, and also that so many Members of the House and of the Government are present to listen to us. In particular, I should like to assure the Minister of Pensions that we in the Army have always realised that he is out to help us. I hope he does not think that we are especially on his track because we think he is unsympathetic towards us. We know very well that his one desire is to help us. I was delighted to find, while listening to the right hon. Gentleman, that I had at least one virtue in common with him. I too give Service men lifts, but only last week, when in my constituency, on giving a private soldier a lift, and asking him the same question as the right hon. Gentleman does, I received a very different reply from the one he experiences, and I would like to repeat it to the House as I think it is very striking and expresses the opinion of many soldiers of all ranks in the Army. His answer was not a pretty one, but it was very much to the point. He said that nowadays it seemed to him that cannon fodder was the only form of unrationed commodity available in unlimited quantities at pre-war prices. That is not a pleasant remark, but I think it is of interest to us to consider for a moment why that man is bitter, because we all know that there are many tens of thousands of men who feel bitter on the subject too.
Those of us who were in the Army at the outbreak of the war found one unanimous reaction on the part of civilians entering the Army to their new life. It was that of bewildered dismay at the change in the standard of living inflicted 2017 on their families. When they came to their officers to say that they were upset by this, we returned the answer that this would be a long and arduous war against a determined and able enemy, and only considerable sacrifices by all members of the community would see us through safely. Being patriotic citizens, they accepted that answer. I am aware that to hon. Members now, in December, 1941, our answer in December, 1939, must seem incredibly naive and simple, but we had not got the gift of second sight, and our only excuse was that we did believe what we said.
What has happened in the past two years, since the outbreak of war? The Service men have gone on leave and have found, as everyone is willing to admit, that their old homes are not as comfortable as in peace-time. They do not worry about that until they start calling on their friends who are remaining in industry. They find that their friends, so far from suffering any sacrifice, are in the bulk of cases drawing more money than they have ever done in their lives before. It is not in the scope of this Debate, nor is it my intention, to discuss wages in industry, but the fact is that Service men who were prepared to make sacrifices to help the country were prepared to do so only if there was equality of sacrifice. They are now saying, "Surely service to the nation in the Armed Forces is of equal honour and importance with, service in industry. If private enterprise can afford to pay their workers generously and fairly, as they are being forced to now, why cannot the State do so?" In a way they provide themselves with the answer. I do not say that I agree with it, but it is the answer that soldiers give. They say that it is well known by the Government that the Army is a patriotic and disciplined body, that there are no trade unions and shop stewards to voice their opinions, and therefore the only safety valve through which they can express opinions on as important a subject as this is the comparatively small number of hon. Members who have the honour of serving in the Forces. That is my excuse, if excuse be needed, for taking part in this Debate.
The right hon. Gentleman has explained the benefits arising out of the new system of allowances. They are, of course, a marked improvement on any other scheme 2018 in this war—as, indeed, they should be after 2¼ years of war. I do not think it is sufficiently realised that it is not only the question of married men which worries the Army; there is the question of the single men as well, and I would like to point out a remarkable state of affairs. I believe I am right in saying that we are the only country in the Commonwealth which makes no provision for soldiers after the war. I would like to quote as an example the system which prevails among the Canadian Forces serving in this country. The wages that I quote have nothing to do with the case, but it shows how a system which I would like to advocate would work. The Canadian private soldier in this country earns 5s. 10d. a day, or £8 14s. 6d. a month. Out of this, the soldier is allowed to draw only £4 5s a month, the balance being credited to him to draw after the war. Those of us who serve in the Army know that there is one great dread among the ranks. It is that when the need for them is over they will be put on the shelf, as so many hundreds of thousands were after the last war, and given the dole without employment.
The Canadian Forces and the Australian Army have provided the solution, and I am anxious that the Government should consider some such solution for our Forces. The difficulty, of course, is obvious; it will cost a lot of money. We can only help the soldiers, sailors and airmen to save money by giving them generous pay, and there are many things to be said for this idea. The money which they save will not be expended during the war on goods which are in scarce supply. It will be almost in the form of a loan to the Government, who will be able to do with the money what they like until the war is over. I would emphasise that in the Army we shall only beat the enemy by being at our maximum efficiency. We cannot be at our maximum efficiency if we have worries. There are two main worries in the Army. The first is the financial one, and the second is, "What will happen to us after the war?" I suggest, with all due respect, that it is useless to say that there is not great disquiet in the Forces. All hon. Members in the Forces who have spoken here to-day have said, without any desire to attract ostentatious attention, that they meet anxiety every- 2019 where. I believe that is the experience of all Army officers and of all ranks in the Forces. So I would beg most sincerely that the Government should consider this last point and what should be done for the Forces after the war. If they decide it now and arrange this method, it will help morale considerably, and make soldiers realise that provision is being made not only to win the war but to help them win their peace.
§ Mr. Molson (Derbyshire, High Peak)
It is my privilege to be the first to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Captain Grey) upon his most eloquent and admirable maiden speech. Those of us who knew that in this Debate he was to make his first contribution to the Debates of this House naturally looked forward to hearing a contribution from, I think, the political heir and kinsman of one of our most distinguished Liberal statesmen of this century. On future occasions when we know that he is going to speak we shall look forward to his speech in the hope that it will be as valuable and eloquent as the one to which we have listened. In his speech he has recalled the general tone of the Debate which we had two months ago, and I have noticed that in the course of the discussion today there have been much less fire and much less criticism than on that occasion. The reason for that is, I think, that in the White Paper which was introduced by my right hon. Friend on 16th October advances were made which have gone a long way, perhaps not the whole way, to meeting the genuine cases of hardship which existed before, and I think the plea which he made on that occasion, and which he has repeated to-day; that the present scheme shall be given a full and fair trial has been justified by what he has been able to tell us. Speaking from my own experience, which is not now as close as it was up to six months ago, I am not aware that there are now anything like as many hard cases as there were, and I should have thought that the new provisions could be regarded as reasonably satisfactory. One hon. Member suggested that the new conditions have not been made sufficiently widely known in the Army. So far as my experience is concerned, every effort has been made to make them known. All the units in the 2020 brigade with which I am. associated have made the terms of the new conditions known to all their men.
The general criticism of principle which has been made is that there should be some general all-round increase in the allowances or in the rates of pay, and that the existing machinery of the War Grants Committee should be done away with. If we had a conscript Army such as the Continental countries have it would have been possible for it to be paid at a very low level. Before the war, when we had a volunteer Army and a professional Army, somewhat higher rates of pay had to be offered than were paid in France or Germany or Italy. We have in the Army at the present time men of all ages from all walks of life, with a very great variety of individual circumstances, and it would be impossible for any scheme which could be imagined to cover adequately the requirements of such a wide variety of men.
It has been said, in criticism of this scheme, that it amounts to a means test. I suggest that, on the other hand, it is an attempt at ascertaining each man's individual needs in order to meet them in the best possible way. It is because our Army at the present time is a cross-cut of all sections and all communities in the State, that all these special individual requirements, like insurance and hire-purchase, have to be provided for by flexible and scientific machinery which can assess the needs of each individual case. When a figure has been criticised, such as the figure of 16s. a unit, I would remind the House that that is only a minimum figure and that a wide discretion is given to the War Service Grants Committee, or the officers acting under it, to deal with the actual requirements of each case as it arises.
I feel convinced that a general rise in rates of pay or in marriage allowances would, in a number of cases, spend public money unnecessarily, while it would also leave a great many individual hard cases almost completely unrelieved. It has been said that there should not be a general increase in pay, on the ground that the country cannot afford it, but I do not put the argument forward as a purely financial one of raising the necessary funds. It is now becoming a problem of providing the necessary consumption goods. Just as the shortage of 2021 foodstuffs came upon us very suddenly, so it is certain that, in the next few weeks or months, we shall be confronted with a serious shortage of consumption goods. If there were to be put into circulation a greatly increased amount of money just at the time when we were compulsorily swinging industry over to the production of the requirements of war more rapidly and on a greater scale than at any previous time, you would merely expend money when the supply of purchasable goods was being simultaneously reduced, and that would result only in a rise in prices and not in a maintenance or an improvement of standards of living for those who are in greatest need.
Reference has been made to-day to the contrast between pay of the men in the Fighting Services and the wages of men who remain in industry. There is not the least doubt in my mind that this contrast is the principal cause of the resentment which has been referred to. I have not found men complaining as a general rule that they were inadequately paid, but only when they have been home and seen the contrast between their lot in life and that of men who no doubt desire to render service equally important, but are paid much more generously, and in some cases extravagantly, for doing it. Now the Government have, of course, no wages policy. They apparently glory in the fact that they have no wages policy, but it would be entirely wrong, as it seems to me, greatly to increase the expenditure upon those members of the Fighting Services who are not in particular need merely because of a lack of policy in another Department of State. If the provisions of the White Paper under which we are working at the present time prove after due trial to be unsatisfactory, I am certain that it will not be necessary for this House to press the Minister of Pensions or the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make the necessary amendments. It is not the privilege of any one section of this House to desire to do justice to the families and dependants of men in the Fighting Services. Just as experience has been gained progressively throughout this war, so the terms and conditions of these allowance have been modified and improved. I am confident therefore that the same thing will apply again.
2022 There is at the same time a very great discrepancy between the amount of money for expenditure in the pockets of the single man and that in the pockets of the married man. The single man in the Army is reasonably well off. Many of them, although their pay is less than it was before the war, have more money to spend upon themselves than they have ever had before. They are in every way provided for by the Government. They are provided with board and lodging and clothing, and in a number of cases the exigencies of military service prevent them from having the opportunity of spending their pay upon amusements or amenities. The pay which these men receive increases automatically for the first three years of their service. After the first completed year they receive an additional 3d. a day, after the second completed year, another 3d. a day, and after the third completed year they receive an extra 6d. That increase in their pay is in no way connected with their needs, nor with the cost of living nor the work they are doing, and should it prove to be necessary later on to make increased provision for the married men in the Services, I suggest that at the same time there should be a cancellation of the future sixpence increase to be given to the single men at the end of three years' service.
If we are to finance this war, if we are to obtain general subscriptions from the mass of the people of this country, it can only be done if we retain their confidence that the money which they are lending to the Government will retain until after the war the purchasing power it now has. It certainly will not if the Government do not take the necessary steps to maintain that purchasing power. So far as industry is concerned, they have no wages policy. I say that to increase indiscriminately, at the present time, the pay of those members of the Fighting Forces who are not actually in need of the allowances which are made by the War Service Grants Committee would be likely to call in question the whole stability of our currency, while at the same time, with the increasing shortage of consumption goods, the doling out of more money would not at all certainly ensure a higher standard of living for dependants of Service men. I am confident that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions has the welfare of the dependants of Service men at heart. I think that the White Paper 2023 under which he is working at the present time represents a very great step forward, and one which does actually meet all the hardest cases with which I am familiar. I am confident that, should further Amendments be required, we can rely upon him and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make the necessary concessions. I would say—and I believe that I speak for a large number of men—that I thank the Government for what has been done. I can, I think, congratulate my right hon. Friend upon the efficiency with which the machinery of his Department has been working.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
I am afraid I cannot join in the chorus of congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman. I think he made a very good Christmas-time Squeers speech suitable for the present season. When he was talking about his Department—and he has obviously been working them very hard —I thought of those in his Department being led like a flight of little angels by the right hon. Gentleman, himself singing:God bless the squire and his relations,And keep us in our proper stations.I really think that the right hon. Gentleman made, if I might say so, a very disingenuous speech. The Minister's conception of his duty to the soldier is a Poor Law conception. For my own part, as a man who has just left the Army, in which the hon. Member who spoke so admirably just now is still serving, I resent it on behalf of the members of the Services. It is not the right kind of way in which to approach this very important question.
The Minister gave an account of the immense amount of work undertaken by his Department. I am not impressed. That work should not have been necessary. It is a waste to have to spend so much time on it. Adequate pay and allowances for wives, children and dependants ought to be given as a right without all that elaborate investigation and unnecessary and useless work. I have promised to be brief, so I will not deal with the medical aspect except to say that I am not impressed by the proposal to pay so much for medical benefit when you could make the medical services of National Health Insurance available to the wives and children of all Service men, with the greatest possible ease, at very 2024 small payment. You could make available also the use of the Emergency Service hospitals established all over the country and which already cost the Government £15,000,000 a year. By making these facilities available to the wives and children and dependants of Service men, you would do away altogether with the necessity for these dole payments for medical purposes of £5 here, a few shillings there, as the case may be, which are quite unnecessary and a complication of administration. The soldier, like the sailor and airman, has surely as much right to be adequately paid as the munition worker or those in other employment. I resent very much the difference there is between the standard of living of men in the Services and those engaged in other occupations and the men resent it, not for themselves but for the effect in their homes.
The soldier does not mind other people being well paid. What he objects to is seeing his wife and children in difficulties. It was said in the Debate that there have not been so many applications from wives. One reason is that wives do not like to have to go through the humiliating process of what they regard as a form of Poor Law inquiry. The allowances paid to wives, children and other dependants ought to be paid as a matter of right. The War Service Grants must be maintained for cases of special hardship, outside the usual run, bu1 for the normal case there should be just as much in the way of regular payments to soldiers, sailors and airmen as to munition workers or people in other ocupations.
§ Mr. Palmer (Winchester)
I hope that the House will not accept as a complete answer the statement which has been made by the Minister. I have no doubt that, in paying tribute to the Minister, people have given expression to a quite proper feeling of gratitude for the great work which he has done. But the whole case was given away when he said that he thought his new scheme was a success because it revealed that there were not so many cases of hardship as he had expected. Is the House of Commons in war time going to start off on that basis, that there are not so many cases of hardship as we expected in our Armed Forces? I hope that, when the Minister replies later, he will deal with this question from a broader point of 2025 view. The Minister of Pensions is not in a position to do that. He gave an accurate account of the work which has been done by the War Service Grants Committee. That is admirable work, but I should like to feel that that Committee, with its admirable machinery, functioning smoothly, as it does, exists for rare cases. But the point is that the Army and the other Services cannot make representations, as the trade unions do successfully with the employers, for increases of pay.
The members of the Forces have to serve near civilians, who are working with much more comfort and going home every day to their families. They feel that they are not given the same consideration as is given to those workers who are represented by trade unions. From that aspect, I hope the Government will pay real attention to what has been said to-day. The Minister knows that the scheme will not in the long run meet the case which is being more and more felt to be a strong one, not only among people in the Services, but among the taxpayers generally, who are providing the money and who want to see it spent for the benefit of men in the Services, but who find that it is being spent on other purposes for which it is less needed. The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Molson) said he did not think the ordinary soldier felt any difficulty over money. I can assure him that he is quite wrong. It is a pity that people should make statements of that kind. Are we to say that, so long as a man has enough, we will see that he does not get any more? I suggest that that is not the right attitude for the House and the Government to adopt. If I had more time, I would say a great deal more, but I hope I have made my position clear.
Mr. Galiacher (Fife, West)
The situation that existed before the new scheme was introduced was absolutely indefensible. There was not a member of the Government who would have dared to stand up in any part of the country and try to defend the situation which existed prior to the present scheme coming into operation. The demand made by every Member of this House was a demand for an increase in the basic rate of allowances to the dependants, but, instead of an increase in the basic pay, we have this Service grant from the War Service Grants Committee. It puts every dependant of 2026 the soldier on to the means test. We should take note of the fact that before the war there was the utmost poverty among the working classes of the country. The lowest possible wages were being paid, and a great mass of men and women were registered at the Employment Exchanges. It was upon these very low rates that the conditions now in operation were based. Compare the consideration shown to the men who were taken into the Army and had had low rates of wages for years before the war with the consideration given to employers when the Excess Profits Tax was being discussed, and when, if they had had a bad year, they were allowed to choose another year. Consider the treatment of those who were earning excess profits in comparison with the treatment given to the men who were taken into the Army. Their dependants, instead of an increase in the basic rate, get a means test and a possible grant from the War Service Grants Committee.
When the scheme was introduced some newspapers came out with the announcement, "Soldiers wives to get £1 a week increase." They are still looking around for that £1 a week. There have been very small increases in most cases, and before any increase is given there is this investigation into their means. I mentioned the other day, in connection with another matter, that a year ago at a co-operative school in Rothesay a lad made a most indignant attack upon anyone who dared criticise the Government of this country, in view of the task the Government were carrying out. This year, at the same school, I was giving a lecture, and I suggested that several members of the Government should be cleared out, just swept out without any consideration, and the same lad, who was sitting in front, got up and made a most bitter attack upon me because I confined myself to some members of the Government and not to the whole of the Government. He wanted to clear out the lot. In that one year a significant change had taken place. He and his wife had been put through a means test. There is nothing so hateful to the working people of this country as the operation of the means test. Sooner or later the Government will have to face up to it. The means test will have to go. Instead of the War Service Grants Committee giving these grants, the Government 2027 should increase the basic allowance to these dependants.
We are told that soldiers are quite willing to make sacrifices, but that they are very concerned to see workers earning big wages. I have listened to this from the other side time and time again. There was never anything so monstrous. Soldiers can understand what happens in industry, and when they can draw comparisons they draw comparisons between what they get and what the bankers and company directors are getting. Why should soldiers serving in the Army, defending their country and fighting for everything that is supposed to be of value, have to undergo a means test? See what the bankers and the company directors are drawing. Compare the soldier's wage with the banker's wage. Who is doing the most important job—the soldier or the banker? The soldier and the worker are complementary to one another, but what is the banker doing? Compare the income of a company director or a Cabinet Minister with the income of a soldier and ask yourself: Who is doing the most service, the soldier or the exhibits we see on that Front Bench—the pitiful remnants taken out of the rag bags of the different parties? The soldier is only too pleased to know that workers are able to maintain, through their trade unions, a nominal wage and it is only a nominal wage. They will gladly assist the workers to maintain their wages. Let the Lord Privy Seal, who is to reply to this Debate, tell us why there should be such a contrast between a soldier's wage and the income of a banker or a company director—men who are giving no service of any kind to the country, men who are simply robbing the country. Will he tell us why there should be this difference? Will he tell those "Yes-men" of the late Prime Minister who have now become "Yes-men" of the new Prime Minister to stop their damnable and impudent
§ Mr. Gallacher
Well, I will withdraw that word. Will he tell them to stop their impudent references to the wages of the working class and ask them to make a real comparison between the men who are serving and those who are robbing the country right and left?
§ Mr. Collindridge (Barnsley)
As I have sat here listening to the Debate, I have felt that in the country the view would be held that the discussion which we have had is as important as those we had last week on the question of man-power. Like my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), I deplore very much the attitude of persons in this House who far too quickly attempt to differentiate between the treatment of serving men and workers in industry. As I said on a previous occasion, if these people who are supporting improvement in serving men's conditions were sincere, they would devote their time and attention to the serving man's conditions and not make references to other people. I hold the view that perhaps when people make these comparisons it is because they want to see worsened conditions in industry and not necessarily to see improved conditions for the serving man. One hon. Member today said that single soldiers have plenty. Well, my two sons have teen soldiers with ordinary habits, and although I do not believe in extravagance, I find that their Service pay has to be augmented so that they can have the ordinary necessities to which they have been accustomed. It would, of course, be idle to pretend that there has not been improvement since 3rd November, but there are many serving men and their dependants who are still being harshly treated.
Recently I have had many meetings within my division which I have addressed, and at every one of them this question of Service men's pay and dependants' allowances has been raised. In spite of what the Minister has said, there is an overwhelming feeling that in these matters there should be no means test. I am certain we shall come to the time when there will be no means test, and I wonder why the Government will not look at the question now in a big and generous way. Let them remember what has happened so far. There was a big campaign in the country about the treatment of the serving man with a large family. To some extent that treatment was improved, but there is still a differentiation between the treatment that is given as regards the payments for the latter members of a large family and the payments for the children in a small family. That is not done in the case of people who are billeted, and I submit that there 2029 ought to be no difference in the case of the children of serving men.
I want particularly to draw the Minister's attention to the treatment of childless wives. The suggestion is that exceptional cases will have consideration. I have received a letter from my Division yesterday giving the weekly budget of a childless wife. She receives 25s. a week, and her budget is as follows: Rent, 10s. 6d., coal, 3s., gas and electricity, 3s., insurance and club, 2s. She has been married only 18 months, although she is 43, and she has to make hire-purchase payments for the furniture of 6s. a week. She spends is. 6d. on milk. The total is 26s., without any provision for food, other than milk, and no provision for clothing, footwear or replacements, She receives from the country 25s. a week to meet those commitments.
§ Mr. Collindridge
I have in my file here a reply received yesterday from the Department to the effect that this lady has claimed under the regulations and failed to receive one penny of satisfaction. How can she exist? Is the morale of the soldier concerned likely to be good when he knows that his wife is treated in that way? It is not enough to say that she can go out to work. As a matter of fact, as was stated in the application made under the regulations, she has a sad bill of health. At the present time she is being helped by friends who allow her to make a pretext of doing work for them and for which they give small payment to prevent her from going to the public assistance committee.
I want briefly to refer to another aspect of the treatment of serving men. In my Division there are a few firms, private and otherwise, who endeavour to help their men who are serving by making good the difference between their pay and their civil wages. I am concerned now, however, with the firms which make a small contribution to the serving man for the purpose of providing him with some of the comforts which his service pay will not allow him to have. Those small payments of a few shillings a week are taken into account under the regulations. I know that in one instance the firm concerned, a large co-operative society, makes 2030 a contribution of 5s. a week, and in doing so it has in mind the possibility that we shall again experience after this war the same sort of conditions as prevailed after the last war. I hope that will not be the case, and I know that the House will endeavour to prevent it from being the case; but the firm in question believes that a little nest egg in the form of these contributions will be helpful to the men. Under the new scheme, because of the generosity of these firms, the Government reduce the allowances. It is said, in my constituency, that the generosity of the co-operative society and of other well-meaning institutions is being used to help the State and not the individual.
It is also felt that some allowance should be granted to the dependants of a young soldier who was living at home before he was called-up. Take the case of the young boy of 19 years of age. While that boy was at work he contributed to the household, and his contributions helped materially to improve the standard of the home; the family were able to buy the little things which they had to forego before he was able to work. The general feeling in my constituency is that some grant, even if it is only a token grant, should be made to the family to enable them to maintain that little extra standard of living. The Government, in connection with the means test, had regard to the contributions made to the household by every member of the family, and these contributions were taken into account for unemployment or pension allowances. It is argued that if that can be done when it is of advantage to the State, then, when a young boy leaves a household which he has been helping to support, the State should make a payment in return. In my constituency, the overwhelming feeling is that although the new Regulations are beneficial to some extent, the allowances should not be reduced because of the generous treatment a man receives from his firm when he is called-up. Our men will fight, however we treat them, and we can rest assured of that, but we are not being fair or just if we do not give fair play to these men and their dependants. There should be no means test— Members of Parliament and other servants of the State have no means test, so why should it be applied to other serving men and dependants?
2031 Childless wives, similar to those I have mentioned earlier, should have their allowances improved. Modest payments made to serving men and their dependants from employers or other sources should be totally ignored. Where promotion takes place the increased pay should not be taken into account to the extent that it is at present. I want to press home what has been said about the need for free medical treatment to dependants of serving men. These questions, and others affecting serving men and their dependants, must be settled satisfactorily. Let us deal with them in a big way and generous way. It will help us in our war effort.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
This House would have been filled, owing to the interest that is taken in the subject, had it not been for a very important meeting that is about to take place upstairs. We have had a Debate which has done credit to the House. The driving force behind us has been public opinion, and all sections of the House have responded to that public opinion. The Trades Union Congress and other public-spirited organisations have for some time been pressing for what has found expression to-day. All this is a tribute to our democratic institutions. The House is now entitled to expect that the Government will respond to public opinion and to the ideas that have been expressed, for there has been almost complete unanimity with regard to the case that has been presented, which has been supported by Members serving in the Armed Forces. The only difference has been how best to achieve our objective. My hon. Friends up to now have been most loyal to the Coalition Government, because they put the winning of the war before everything else, but they are entitled to more progressive legislation and to greater improvements in the lives of the people. We shall soon be starting upon a new year— it may be a decisive year. Therefore, knowing our people, I hope that the Government will make up their mind upon this question and settle it as satisfactorily as possible so that our men, when they play their part in the months to come in all parts of the world, in many cases under very difficult circumstances, will be contented and will know that the nation 2032 is treating their wives, children and dependants as reasonably as it possibly can.
Many suggestions have been expressed, and we expect that they will form a basis for an examination of the problem by the Government which will result as soon as possible in the adoption of a policy more in harmony with the 1941 and 1942 conception of life. Ample proof has been given that we expect the Government to introduce a new and enlightened policy. We hope that certain officials are not to be allowed to prejudice the consideration of this issue. The present methods of compensation, allotment, forms, investigations and all that they mean to our people, humiliation, paper and paper and paper, are a legacy of the dark past. The House of Commons to-day, with only one exception, has asked for a fundamental change. I have liked the tone of the Debate. I have never found a better tone and more unanimity. The House, this democratic instrument, has truly reflected public opinion.
May I remind the House and the Government in particular that a few days ago nearly the whole House supported the Government's latest man-power proposals? Many of my hon. Friends sunk their feelings and ideas, and they were prepared to do that and to throw their all into the melting pot in order to win the war. But they gave their support conditionally, and one of the conditions was that the position of those drafted into the Armed Forces and the auxiliaries should be examined and made as good as possible; there should be a revision of the Royal Warrant and a substantial increase in the payments made to all dependants. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour made a carefully prepared statement in reply on behalf of the Government. He said:We shall welcome a Debate, and, after hearing the views of the House, we shall consider the matter and make an early statement."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1941; col. 1344, Vol. 376.]To-day the Government have heard the views of the House. The views that have been expressed represent the ideas of all public-spirited people, irrespective of their political opinions. We shall expect an early statement to be made by the Government on this matter. I shall never forget as a mere boy landing at Etaples and spending a night in Abbeville. It was the first time I had seen the men who 2033 had left Australia and New Zealand. When I looked at and admired their physique and thought about their pay and conditions, I thought what fine countries these men must come from and what fine Governments governed them. These men represented a new conception of life. They had been living in an environment that had produced the best in physique. They had been living in enlightened countries that would not ask their men to risk their all unless they were prepared to extend reasonable treatment to them. To-day this House, with the exception of only one Member, has asked our Government to re-examine this problem in order that our policy can be moulded upon a new conception of life such as manifested itself during my young days in the last war.
My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. H. Beaumont) opened this Debate in an able and well-informed manner. His first complaint was about the delays in consideration and reply, and he asked for a speeding-up of the Service administrative machinery. Every hon. Member who has had letters from his constituents knows that too many delays take place in the Service administrative machinery. A good deal of friction could be eliminated and misunderstanding avoided if this machinery could be speeded up. Then he made a plea for increased allowances and that these should be their statutory rights, and not have to be specially claimed. The hon. Member for Harrow (Mr. Bower) made an admirable maiden speech. What I liked about it in particular was that he refused to forget the men with whom he had served in the early days of the war. I only wish many more hon. Members would refuse to forget the people from whom they have sprung. He supported our plea in every way. The hon. and gallant Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Captain Grey) also made a speech which did credit to him and those from whom he springs.
The hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), who occasionally comes into the House and makes a speech and is seldom seen again, protested against the pay in reserved occupations. All thinking people who have any regard for the unity that prevails in this country at the moment will deprecate that issue being raised in 2034 the way she raised it. If the policy' she outlined is to be adopted we shall not mind, provided it is applied all round. It is what we on this side of the House stand for. We have devoted the whole of our lives to bringing about an acceptance of that policy. She knows, or if she does not know she ought to know, that industry in this country has been put upon such a basis that we get greater productivity per man employed in industry than they do in any other part of the world. That productivity has only been brought about by the improved relationships gradually built up between employers and the trade unions, acting for the workpeople. To make irresponsible suggestions such as she made in that speech is not helping our war effort. Let me assure her and everyone else who is inclined to listen to her that the men in the shipyards and the men in the engineering shops will work night and day, if need be, in order to replace our capital ships. Anyone who has had recent experience of manual work and knows how our men go home dead tired night after night would not make suggestions of that kind. The hon. and gallant Member for Bewdley (Captain Conant) also supported the line taken by my hon. Friend and others who have spoken in the Debate. He produced evidence which proved the need for increased pay for our men in the Armed Forces and increased allowances for their dependants.
The Minister's answer was most disappointing and will not satisfy my hon. Friends on this side, nor will it satisfy all the hon. Members who have taken part in this Debate. He did not answer the allegations made by every speaker to-day that present rates of pay and allowances are inadequate. He side-tracked the main issue raised to-day by his defence of the War Service Grants administrative machine, a defence which he had no need to make, because my hon. Friends on this side have already publicly paid tribute to its work. The main issue raised to-day is the inadequacy of the pay of the men and women serving in the Armed Forces and of the grants made to their dependants. Can we have an answer to this question when the Lord Privy Seal speaks?
Where a woman who is in receipt of a war service grant is notified that her son or her husband is missing, and she is able to obtain a pension, will she continue to receive a war service grant? I would 2035 like it to be broadcast to the whole world after this Debate that our men are far better paid than the Germans, Italians and Japanese. We are a Democracy. Our standards are higher. We can speak and think, and can represent public opinion in this House. On behalf of public opinion we are asking for better pay, for our married men in particular, and for their dependants.
This Debate has taken place at a very opportune moment. National Service has been extended. It will apply to my generation for the second time. That fact needs to be emphasised. Every time a soldier receives a letter from home complaining, it is bound to affect his morale. I will give the House three examples of such letters. One lady—and these are real ladies who are living in conditions of this kind. There is a wrong conception of "lady" in many quarters—writes:I am writing to you asking if you would question the Secretary of State for War re the rise we should have had on November 3rd. My pay is £3 13s., out of which I have to pay 15s. a week rent, leaving me £2 18s. to buy coal with, which costs 6s. 9d. a week, light is., 2S. 6d. on furniture, leaving £2 7s. 9d. to keep ten of us a week, which is not 5s. each. I have nine children, all under the age of 14 years, and expecting another one in January. I have nothing coming in only the Army allowance. My husband has been in the Army one year and eight months. His name is"—so and so.
§ Mr. Smith
The Minister rightly reminds me that that is a case for a grant, but hon. Members who move among this kind of people are aware why an application for a grant is not made. It is a real tragedy that people should be living in such conditions. There is a reasonable explanation why more applications for grants have not been made. Here is another letter:I happen to be one of the unfortunate mothers that you" —Members of Parliament— "speak of. I lost two sons in the last war. One was a Serjeant and the other was a private. I get 18s. per week, not much, for the two boys. I was told I could not get supplementary allowances. My youngest son joined up at the outbreak of this war. He left me 7s. per week. They would not allow me anything to it. He is now a prisoner of war since 29th May, 1940, and I send him a parcel and cigarettes every three months, which I can hardly afford but I wish I could send him more.2036 That shows the great spirit behind these people and one which this House ought to recognise. She goes on:I am sure he is in great need. I am a widow in bad health, have lost the sight of one of my eyes and have to pay to be looked after. You can use this letter, as it is all facts. You can show it to the Prime Minister if you like. So this is how mothers are treated." [Interruption.]I do not like the light way in which some of these things are received in this House, as they evidently are. I do not like the way in which this matter is being treated. The tone of the Debate has been a credit to this House, on the whole, with one exception. When a man does anything wrong his wife and children are not responsible, yet their allowance is affected and, in some cases, greater difficulties are caused by a continuance of the payments after which large reductions are made. I would like to ask the Lord Privy Seal whether he will see that the Service Departments give consideration to that issue.
Here is a minimum weekly budget, carefully checked up, for a man, his wife and two children, and I invite any right hon. or hon. Member of this House to make the most minute investigation into it. It includes: rent 15s., coal and wood 7s., gas 5s., light 2S., meat, fish, etc., 10s., milk 5s., bread, etc., 10s., vegetables 5s., groceries and minimum household requirements 14s., fares 6s., papers is., and insurance 4s., a total of £4 4s. This budget is a minimum and does not include any allowance for boots, shoe repairs, clothes, doctors or expenditure at chemists. Only those of us who have gone through what most of our people have to go through know what that last expenditure means. My child would never have lived had it not been for the expenditure which my wife incurred at chemists. When the people living in our industrial centres see their children ailing they feel that nothing is too good for those children. They want to do all they can to save the lives of the children, and when the father is away serving in another part of the world, you can depend upon it that the mother is more anxious, than ever to save the children and do her best for them in order to spare the father the anxiety of knowing that the children are suffering. This, therefore, is only minimum expenditure, and we say that our 1941 conceptions of life in Britain, a democratic country, ought to have taken us away 2037 from the idea of the meagre payments which are being given to our men at the present time.
Of course, in the case of the man who is away, I admit that his clothes are found and that his food is found, but we plead for consideration of the facts which I have laid before the House. The Minister said that no inquisitorial investigations are made. I happen to have here a form which is taken by the investigators to the houses. I invite any hon. Member of this House to have a look at it and to say whether they agree that there is no inquisitorial investigation. I will leave it with hon. Members of this House to determine for themselves whether or not any inquisitorial investigation is made. Then again, the right hon. Gentleman, as he has done on other occasions, quoted exceptional cases in order to disprove the case made by hon. Members in all parts of this House. It is not worthy of him. I will quote an exceptional case, being a report from the "Daily Herald" of 15th November, 1941A neighbour who looked in to see how Mrs. Allington, of Brooklands Road, Romford, was getting along, found her crying over a pile of papers. There was a form she had to fill in asking for an additional Army allowance. ' If I have any more of these to fill in, it will be the end of me, said Mary Allington.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Would the hon. Member allow me to ask him whether he read the "Daily Herald's" report of that case on the following day, and will he read it to the House now? I know that case; it is well known to every Member of this House
§ Mr. Smith
I have made it a principle in life always to be careful about my facts. If these facts are not correct I am prepared to leave the case as it is. At the same time, the right hon. Gentleman quoted many exceptional cases, and we are not in a position to check them up. What I was doing was quoting an exceptional case in order to prove that the statements made with regard to inquisitorial investigation are statements of fact and that such investigations have been responsible for producing tragedies of the description I have indicated.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The hon. Member said I had quoted exceptional cases. I repudiate that statement. The cases I gave to the House were not exceptional but cases which I come across in the 2038 everyday course of my business. On this particular case, the hon. Member himself admitted that it was exceptional; I say if he quotes it, he must quote the answer given the next day, and the editor's statement. As soon as I see any particular case of that kind in the paper I investigate at once, just as I do if an hon. Member brings a case to my notice. We have had more apologies from people who have brought such cases than I have had to make for my staff.
§ Mr. Smith
I admit that we have no cause for complaint with regard to investigation by the Minister and his staff. But if anyone doubts the point I am making, I do not need to bring along any case. Here is a form that can be examined. I invite the House to have a look at it. According to the Chancellor of the Exchequer we are spending £11,750,000 per day. All we ask is that another £250,000 a day should be spent to meet the position of our men in the Services and their dependants. I must associate my hon. Friends with the expressions of gratitude we have heard to the staff of the Ministry for the way they have worked on this matter. In the main, the British administrative machine is as efficient as it could be, and it is run by a very fine body of men and women. But what we ask is whether the present scheme is justified by what we expend on the administration. Is it worth it? On the present scales of payment there is no margin between income and expenditure. When men go on leave they want to spend a little extra with their wives; they want to have some entertainment, some relaxation, and they are entitled to it. They want to buy something for their children. Some of them want to spend more on the education of their children. Yet, for many such reasonable commitments, no allowances are made.
All Members who have served in the Armed Forces will know how our men appreciate parcels from home and how eagerly these parcels are opened in the huts and tents. They help to maintain the morale of our serving men. The effect of the good-will obtained from these parcels cannot be measured. I want to ask why reasonable expenditure of that kind is not allowed in the Service grants which are made? My final point is that we are satisfied with the efficiency of the War Service Grants machinery. Our case 2039 is that the pay of the men and women serving in the Armed Forces should be increased, that the statutory grants to the dependants should be increased. The applications that would then be made to the War Service Grants Committee would be the exceptional ones, and not the majority of cases, as at the present time.
The present scheme is resented. It is humiliating. It is undignified. We admit that we cannot have complete equality, but the glaring inequalities that exist can be smoothed out. We are a democracy, we, are fighting to preserve democracy, and we ask that the standards of the men and women serving in the Armed Forces should be more consistent with democratic principles in the Army.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Attlee)
The Government welcome this opportunity of hearing the views of hon. Members on this subject It is a subject in which all our interests are bound up. We have had a number of speeches from hon. Members who could give us their personal experiences. Among those speeches we have had two extremely interesting maiden speeches, and I would especially like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Captain Grey). He had, what is always a hard task, to try to live up to the very high standard set in this House by other members of his family. I feel that he succeeded in doing so.
This discussion has brought out a great many points. I do not intend to reply on detailed matters of administration, which are outside my scope. I want to look at the Debate as a whole. We have had an account by the Minister of the operation of the new Regulations. I think it is agreed, although perhaps somewhat grudgingly, that there was a big improvement as a result of those Regulations. As the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) said, there is unanimity in the desire of this House to deal justly with the serving man and his dependants. Some people talk of justice, others of equity, others of what is adequate. It is very easy to make those statements. It is much harder to translate them into actual Regulations and actual administration.
§ Mr. Attlee
The hon. Member is in the fortunate position that he has never been, 2040 and is never likely to be, in the position of having to carry out any of his proposals.
§ Mr. Attlee
Some hen. Members seem to suggest that all inquiries are of their very nature, inquisitorial and wrong. Actually, I think that no hon. Member suggested that it was possible to put a standard rate of dependants' allowances that would meet every case. The trouble always is, as everyone knows, with the exceptional case. You could put these sums up to a great height. You would still find the exceptional case. Other speakers admitted that the only way in which those cases could be dealt with was by some form of grant, and that that grant implied inquiries. When I am asked why that is so, I say that it is because we are not living in an equalitarian society. We have a condition of affairs in which people have grown up with different standards and different obligations. This is not an Army of professions, but an Army cutting right through the whole nation. Wherever you draw the line, whatever amount you give, you are bound to have cases in which you must have inquiries, and in which you must have supplementation.
That supplementation is not for the purpose, as is suggested, of putting the responsibility on to someone. You must have some form of inquiry to discuss how and when this should be done. As to exactly where the line should be drawn, that is a matter for debate, discussion and inquiry. The Government will look into that very fully, but it is not a really easy question. Every time you increase any of these payments, they have repercussions elsewhere, and hon. Members may deprecate comparisons, but comparisons are made. You may have two or three people living in the same street, and they will tend to make comparisons, and unless you have a full equalitarian society, you have these comparisons to make. Even in the most equalitarian society there was a tendency to suggest that this matter must be one of comparison. I do not know the comparative conditions of every section of society. I am not sure whether certain hon. Members on this side of the House were not lining up with the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), that is, if you pressed their remarks to 2041 their logical conclusion. They both proceeded to an equalitarian society. You cannot do this in the middle of a war. No one knows better than the hon. Member for Stoke of the difficulties of a sudden and sweeping adjustment of all wages and payments for work and so forth. I do not think that he would suggest that you could suddenly sweep them away by introducing a flat rate.
§ Mr. Attlee
Then we are all square on that. You have to go into these things very carefully if you want to have equality. You could try to get equality between the banker and the hon. Member for West Fife, and you could try and get equality between the man in the workshop and the man engaged in the Army, Navy or Air Force or in any other form of National Service. When you talk of that, you have to consider how things are at the start. We did not start this war even. We have these differences of wages. The assumption is that they were already relative to the rest of the community before the war started, but that is not so. It is not so with many branches of industry. Therefore, I rather deprecate the point made by the hon. Member for the High Peak (Mr. Molson), who seemed to think that the Government have not a wages policy because certain advances have been made recently. Those advances were made by proper independent tribunals appointed to judge the case. I cannot make a statement as to what the Government may do, but I can say this: The Government have this matter under their consideration. They will go very carefully through this Debate, and every suggestion will be examined, including the other suggestion which has been put forward, one which has already been put forward by other people and been examined, and will be examined again, namely, the question of the equality of the man who has served in the Fighting Forces and the man who has served in some other form of National Service at the end of the war in respect of their savings. It is a point well worth looking into.
2042 The House is indebted to hon. Members for the care with which they go into this matter. Particular Members form committees and pool their ideas, but one is sometimes struck by the tendency in the House to draw large conclusions from a very limited number of instances. That always happens, and that is why one has to have provision for hard cases. One hard case gets more notice than 99 others that are justly dealt with, and I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South East Leeds (Major Milner) will agree with me that hard cases make bad law. We have to try and get the utmost possible justice. I can assure the House that the Government are very keenly aware of the practical and immediate question of seeing that dependants do not suffer. We brought in the last changes expressly for the purpose of dealing with an urgent matter. Secondly, there is the point about the morale of the Fighting Forces and the country generally. Thirdly, there is the state of morale as affected by future prospects after the war, and, finally, there is the other point which has to be looked at—the effect of these payments on other payments. All these matters will be carefully considered by a Government committee, and when the House reassembles after the Recess we shall perhaps be able to bring forward our conclusions.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
Can my right hon. Friend say definitely whether the Government will bring forward their proposals "on their own," or will it be after another Debate initiated from these Benches?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £1,000,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the expenses which may be incurred during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1942, for general Navy, Army and Air Services and for the Ministry of Supply, in so far as specific provision is not made therefore by Parliament, for securing the public safety, the Defence of the Realm, the maintenance of public order and the efficient prosecution of the war, for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community and generally for all expenses, beyond
those provided for in the ordinary Grants of Parliament, arising out of the existence of a state of war.