§ 2.43 p.m.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the decision that "no return to the system of pensions linked to the cost of living is possible" is a general statement of policy applying to all emoluments derived from public 776 moneys, or to all pensions so derived, or is limited to those pensions in respect of which an undertaking was given in 1919 to maintain such linkage and annulled in 1935.]
§ THE PAYMASTER-GENERAL (THE EARL OF SELKIRK)
My Lords, the statement to which the noble Lord refers in his Question was made in a recent Defence debate in another place by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. It was made with particular reference to pensions of retired officers affected by stabilisation and consolidation in 1932 to 1935. The Government policy in this matter was fully explained in the White Paper, Command 9092. I can confirm that it remains a fundamental principle of policy that once public service pensions in general are awarded they are not subject to change either up or down. Exception has, however, been made to this general rule in the past in cases where pensioners are suffering from hardship which can be ascribed to the rise in the cost of living.
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Earl for his clear statement. It gives rise, I think, to two supplementary questions, which I will ask as briefly as I can. One question is this: Does what the noble Earl has said embrace pensions such as old age pensions and superannuation pensions, the funds for which are found, either wholly or in part, out of public money? My second question is this. I take it that when Her Majesty's Government annulled the old condition of the 1919 pensions they were actingߞthemselves and their supportersߞas trustees of the national income. I suppose they felt that that condition was ultra vires, and it was on that account annulled. If that is so, will the Government consider this question anew, for three reasons? One reason is that it will cost very little to review it. The second reason is that if, unfortunately, the cost of living should rise again, they would again be faced with the same kind of complaint with which they have been faced recently. The third reason is this. Speaking as a taxpayer myself, I feel that even if the undertaking given in 1919 was rash, it was none the less sacred as a Government undertaking, and should, if possible be reinstated as soon as possible.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, the noble Lord can bring forward these matters in a Motion if he wishes to do so. But the issue which he is now raising is far too wide to be dealt with by question and answer. What I have said expresses general policy in this matter, and I do not think I can usefully add to it in any way.
§ LORD JEFFREYS
My Lords, with reference to the question in point, may I ask whether the Government have any fear lest the present-day aspirants for commissions may reckon the value of the new promises now being made in the light of the undertaking given in 1919 and subsequently annulled, and are the Government prepared to accept such a position?
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I hardly think that that question arises on the original Question. The noble Lord and I have had a long debate on this subject before, and I would rather not enter into it again.