§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. McKenna)
I beg to move: "That this House approves of the Reports of the Select Committee on Naval and Military Services (Pensions and Grants)."
In the unavoidable absence of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has asked me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I desire to recommend this course to the House. The first report of the Committee was presented as far back as 2nd February. The second report was presented on 15th April. In order that the House may have a fair view of the scope and purpose of these reports it is necessary to remind the House, briefly, of the situation in relation to allowances and pensions as it stood at the outbreak of the War, and up to the time of the appointment of a Select Committee. At the outbreak of the War separation allowance was limited in the Army to those men married on the strength. I understand that those married on the strength amounted in the Infantry to about 3 per cent. of the whole. The rate in the lowest ranks was 7s. 7d. per week and 1s. 2d. for each child, to which the soldier had to add 3s. 6d. and 7d. respectively, making a total of 11s. 1d. for the wife and 1s. 9d. for each child. In the Navy there were no separation allowances given at all. As regards dependants, otherwise than wives and children, there was no allowance either to them in the 2225 Navy or in the Army. Pensions existed, but they were on a very small scale.
In both the Army and the Navy the pension in the lowest rank was 5s. per week for the widow and 1s. 6d. for each child. Disability pensions were 10s. 6d. to 17s. 6d. for total disablement and 3s. 6d. to 10s. 6d. a week for partial disablement. The whole scale, both of pensions and allowances, was obviously quite inadequate for the conditions of a war such as the present. We have to remember that the men are recruited at the present time from all parts of the country, and from all classes, rural, commercial, and industrial. The Army, moreover, now is in very large proportion constituted of men who have not adopted a military life as a career, but who will return to civil life after the War, and who have only temporarily left their homes, which have to be kept up during their absence. The inadequacy of the old rules as to pensions and allowances was recognised immediately on the outbreak of the War, and considerable steps were taken administratively forthwith. The distinction between married on the strength and married off the strength was abolished, thereby extending the separation allowance to all married soldiers. As the result of departmental action, increases were made in the separation rates, particularly by the abolition of extra allotments for children; allowances for dependants were introduced as from 1st October; separation allowance was given in the Navy; and both widows and disability pensions were increased.
The resulting scheme was shown in the White Paper with which, I think, both in its contents and in its name the House is now very familiar, and which was presented on 9th November. The scheme, as proposed in the White Paper, was discussed in this House on 18th November last, and there was no doubt that the sentiment of hon. Members in every quarter of the House was that, while it was recognised that some considerable advance had been made in the allowances and pensions given to the dependants of soldiers and sailors, something more ought to be done, having regard to the very special circumstances in this War, to which I have already alluded, and a Select Committee was appointed—to consider a scheme of pensions and grants for officers and men disabled by wounds or disease arising out of the present war, and for the widows, orphans and dependants of officers and men who have lost their lives, and whether the existing scheme of separation allowances to wives, children and dependants should be amended.2226 The Select Committee met on 23rd November. Numerous sittings were held, both to receive evidence and for the purposes of consultation. In the report of the evidence twenty-five sittings are mentioned, but, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain)—who, if he will allow me to say so, was perhaps the most assiduous attendant, at any rate with one or two of us—knows, several other meetings were held which are not included in the report, and, as the result of their labours, which might be described not unfairly as considerable, the first report was presented on 2nd February, and recommended increased separation allowances and pensions. The increased separation allowances took effect from 1st March last, and I would have the House to note this point, because there has been a good deal of anxiety expressed with regard to it, that from that same date, 1st March last, the new scale for widows and for disability pensions will also run. It is quite true that the new scale has not yet been paid for disability pensions, but that has been owing to unavoidable delays of Departmental action, but it is now finally agreed, and the arrears will be paid on the higher scale as from 1st March last, so that it may be said that the report of the Committee presented to the House on 2nd February was made the basis of complete Departmental action, and the findings of the Committee have already been carried into effect.
It is not necessary for me now to go into detail into the new scale which was recommended by the Committee. I believe every Member of the House is quite familiar with it, and it has been circulated to the House. I believe I shall be justified—at least I hope so—in saying that the House as a whole accepted the scale recommended by the Committee, and that the scale has been considered by the country as fair and reasonable. I may say, indeed, that the rates paid are far in excess of any rates hitherto paid in this country, and are very much in excess of any rates now paid by any of the great combatant countries in this war. We stand, in fact, a long way ahead in the recognition of the pecuniary claims that the dependants of soldiers and sailors have upon the State whilst they are absent from their homes fighting in the cause of their country.
The Committee, after a very full consideration, decided upon the principle 2227 that grants made by the State out of public funds must be on a flat rate, and that the scale should bear some relation to the standard of living in the country. We felt—I am sure the principle will recommend itself to the House—that as a soldier every man was to be treated alike—[An HON. MEMBER: "Of the same rank"]—that every man of the same rank was to be treated alike. Every man offers the same services, and runs the same risks. It was felt, moreover—I am looking at the employment of the man as a soldier or sailor from the point of view of the State—that administrative simplicity is essential in order to minimise delay. That was the ground, put very shortly, on which the Committee determined that, so far as public funds were concerned, we ought to recommend to this House a flat rate both for allowances and pensions.
But it was impossible for the Committee to disregard a very large body of evidence that was brought before it, that the sacrifice which enlistment entailed upon the family which was left at home varied very much in degree. The absence, the incapacity, the death of the bread-winner might bring far more havoc and suffering to the family in one case than in another, and we thought that it would be right and proper that a formal recognition should be made by the Committee of the existence of this different degree of sacrifice upon the family by the absence of the bread-winner, and that we should recommend to this House that out of the funds not voted by this House but of a public nature, or by new voluntary subscription, an effort should be made to equalise, so far as it was possible, the degree of sacrifice which was entailed upon every family. Of course, there were obvious limits to the distance to which you could go. Everybody will agree that the wife and family of an agricultural labourer who receives as much in the way of separation allowance as they enjoy, perhaps, as the total family income—
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. McKENNA
The hon. Member may take a strong case; I take a moderate case. In such a case there is not the same sacrifice made by the family as in the case of a workman, who may be a highly-skilled workman, hitherto earning three, four, or five pounds a week, or a clerk whose salary may be as much, or more, who leave their families behind receiving what, for them, is only a comparatively poor pittance. 2228 The Committee, holding these views, accordingly in their second Report, presented on 15th April, made their recommendations for the constitution of the body which, with the assistance of local committees, should administer these supplementary Grants, to be made, so far as funds are available, out of voluntary funds of a national character in cases where special circumstances demand such treatment. I should like to say here that the constitution of a new body, which was to have devolved upon it, on the recommendation of Parliament, duties of this kind, was a matter which presented very great difficulty. We had the greatest assistance in coming to a conclusion upon this matter from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher). He not only addressed to the Committee some very interesting and forcible verbal evidence upon the subject, but we also had the advantage of receiving from him a wholly detailed scheme, from which I think the Committee may justly and properly admit that they have largely borrowed in their own proposals to this House. The object which the Committee had in view, generally speaking, was this: we sought to build up a new body out of many constituent parts, the principal one of which is the Royal Patriotic Corporation. We had in that corporation the example of an excellent institution which has done a great deal of public work with the approval of the country, and we thought that we could not do better than look in the main to the constitution of the Royal Patriotic Corporation. We have, therefore, recommended that a special body shall be constituted which should be called the Statutory Committee of the Royal Patriotic Corporation. We do not suggest that this body in the least should interfere with the existing duties of the Patriotic Corporation, but we merely suggest that out of that corporation a new statutory Committee should be formed, and to that Committee we suggest that the special duties of which I have just spoken should be assigned. We look not only to the Patriotic Corporation. I hope my colleagues on the Committee will not object to me revealing this secret, but I confess that we had our eye on the money, and we looked to the possibility of some financial assistance being obtained from the National Relief Fund, and we provided in our proposals that representatives of the National Relief Fund should 2229 be included in this new statutory Committee. I would like to say here on behalf of the whole Committee, and I wish to be perfectly frank on the subject, that we have no right and we do not make any claim upon the National Relief Fund, and I mention the matter first in the House of Commons in order to explain our full proposals to this House, whose Committee we are. We should not make any requests to the National Relief Fund until we have formally presented the whole of our proposals to that body, and then we shall invite their co-operation in the great work we have in hand.
We looked also to another body which has done very good work in connection with these matters, and that is the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association, and we propose to have two members of that body as members of the statutory Committee. We have provided also for the representation of two women on the Committee and two representatives of labour. We think this is a proper body to administer the functions of which I have spoken. What we ask for now is the approval of the House to the general principles. It cannot be expected for a moment that all the details of this scheme will commend themselves to every hon. Member of the House. The new Statutory Committee cannot, however, be set up except by a Bill, and if the House approves of the report, when we get to the Committee stage of the Bill I would suggest that that would be the right time for considering the details of the opposition to this body. The House will recognise that in framing a scheme of this kind, we have largely to draw upon such evidence as we can obtain and the experience of such bodies already in existence. There is no great Department of State with a long experience and a long history behind it, able to bring out from its pigeon-holes proposals which have received the consideration of successive Ministers of State, as is the case in an ordinary Departmental matter. In a proposal of this kind we have to look to the collective wisdom of the House, and we shall expect, when we are in Committee on the Bill, to receive amending proposals, and we shall welcome suggestions of every kind which may be made. We do not put this forward as the last word of wisdom in dealing with this proposal, but we do ask the House to give a general assent to the principle of our proposals. So much for the constitution 2230 of the new body which we propose to set up for the purpose of preparing schemes laying down general principles upon which additional grants should be made in individual cases over and above the flat-rate paid by the State. We also propose, if a body of this kind commends itself to the House, that certain other functions should be handed over to it which, in ordinary circumstances, might be administered by the War Office and the Admiralty. We propose that the statutory Committee should decide questions of fact with regard to pensions payable out of the public funds to dependants other than wives and children. The decision of questions of fact will be given only by the statutory body, and once that decision is given on the question of fact, the War Office will pay automatically the rate which is due upon that finding of fact out of public funds. All payments out of public funds will be paid out by a public authority, but questions of fact which will determine the rates of pensions will be decided by this statutory body. Local committees may be asked to recommend and inquire upon the state of facts as brought before them, but the responsibility for making the decision will be placed upon the statutory Committee.
§ Mr. WARDLE
Will the questions of fact only apply to the extra allowance, and not to the recommendations of the ordinary Grants due from the State?
§ Mr. McKENNA
That will depend upon circumstances. I am now dealing with the case in which the Statutory Committee will be making decisions with regard to public money.
§ Mr. McKENNA
They are decisions in each individual case of dependants other than the wife and child, and the decision on questions of fact will be given by this statutory Committee. This committee may use the local committees for the purpose of obtaining information, but not for the purpose of giving a decision. We next suggest, apart from making supplementary Grants in proper cases, that the statutory Committee should decide in a judicial capacity questions relating to forfeiture and claims to pensions and separation allowances which are in dispute between two or more claimants. I hope that the House will accept the proposal 2231 that these quasi-judicial functions should be exercised by an independent body like this statutory body rather than the War Office or the Admiralty. It is most undesirable that a public Department should be subjected to continual pressure with regard to cases of this kind, I do not say from Members of Parliament, but pressure from constituents and others interested parties which make it always extremely difficult not only for hon. Members but those who have charge of this matter to deal with. It is clearly better that these quasi-judicial decisions should be handed over to an independent body of this kind. In the main, those will be the functions which we propose for the Statutory Committee.
With regard to local committees or local advisory bodies as determined here, we recommend that they should be created. I know that in this matter there will be a good deal—I will not say of controversy—but discussion as to whether we should, or should not, use existing committees, such as the pensions committees. Very authoritative bodies representing county councils and borough councils have already brought this matter to our notice, and they have urged that the Pension Committees would be the most desirable bodies to use for this purpose. We have discussed this matter, and in our report we have not excluded the possibility of the Pension Committee being deputed to do this work. It will not, however, do it in its capacity as a Pension Committee, and we ask the local Committee to frame a scheme for the constitution of the Committee. Every scheme has to be submitted for the approval of the statutory Committee, and should provide that the chairman and one half of the remaining members of the Committee should be appointed by the county borough or district council. They need not necessarily be members of any one of those local authorities, but we secure public interest and ultimately public control of the work of these Committees by the fact that the local authority must be responsible for the appointment of the chairman and one half of the members of the Committee. We think, also, that the scheme should provide for the appointment of two members by the statutory Committee on every local Committee, and that provision should be made for the appointment of not less than two women. I do not think that it is possible to lay 2232 down in advance any precise rules as to what the functions of the local Committees should be. In regard to this question of pensions and allowances, the history of the War has been very different in different localities. Most of the localities have sent up large subscriptions to the National Relief Fund, and not unnaturally they look to that Fund for a return to their own districts of a fair proportion of the appropriate expenditure out of the Fund. Other districts, on the other hand, adopted an independent policy, and said from the first, "We will subscribe nothing to the National Relief Fund; we have our own local fund." It would be impossible to lay down the same rule of conduct for districts whose circumstances are so dissimilar as those I have described. In one case the local authority have the right to look to the central authority for financial assistance; in the other case the local Committee must provide its own financial assistance. Therefore, we do not go beyond suggesting that local Committees may be set up, and, if they are set up, they must be set up in accordance with the scheme, and that scheme must have the approval of the statutory Committee.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Yes, we approve of that. We do not go further than that in the report, but, of course, when we get to the Bill we shall have to ask the assistance of the House in considering the great variety of cases which will arise all over the country, and when we get into Committee on the Bill we shall welcome, as I have said before now in the case of the statutory Committee, all the proposals for the consideration of the question as to what the functions and the limit of the functions of these local Committees should be.
§ Colonel YATE
May I ask whether there will be representatives of soldiers and sailors on the local Committees?
§ Mr. McKENNA
It would be quite possible and I should say even probable, but we do not make that essential.
§ Colonel YATE
You provide for women; would it not be necessary to provide for representatives of the Army and Navy?
§ Mr. McKENNA
I can say that would be so. Every scheme submitted to the 2233 statutory Committee would contain proposals of the kind, and, no doubt, in every locality in which there was a Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association, members of that association would be included in the committee. But they do not exist universally. These are all questions which are appropriate to the Committee stage of the Bill, and are quite inappropriate to a discussion on a general report which does not raise the points at all. I am only forecasting to the House something which the Bill will necessarily contain in order to satisfy the whole of the requirements of the subject. I believe that I have now covered the whole ground as to the principles upon which we ask the judgment of the House, and I hope that the Motion which I now formally make will receive the general acceptance of hon. Members.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
It is a little difficult to approve the portrait the Home Secretary has given of the new body which is to be set up to work the two reports issued from this Committee, to whom we all owe our thanks for the great amount of labour and skill with which they have worked out a very difficult problem. If you see a portrait perhaps after the third or fourth sitting, you are inclined to say that it is a very promising portrait and looks as if it were going to turn out an admirable portrait. That is exactly what I would say of these two schemes. After all, there is another report to me. We have yet to see the Bill which is to carry out the scheme, and until we do see the Bill we are hardly in a position to say whether we can approve of the two reports or whether we would like to make some reservations. I would like to make one or two reservations to-night. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that these pensions are a very great improvement on any pensions that have hitherto existed in this or any other country, possibly the Dominions excepted, for the reward of those who have given their services and to the widows of those who have given up their lives to their country. That is undoubtedly so, but let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that there were no pensions at all before the Transvaal War. We are going through a process of evolution; everything, of course, is getting better, and ought to get better and to improve, and I think we may fairly say that the Government have really adopted a liberal and generous scale of pensions, looking to the fact of the enormous burden which the taxpayers of this country will 2234 have to bear after this War is over. It is, on the whole, a really generous scale of pensions. It is a great improvement on the old White Paper. Certain defects were pointed out in the pensions as delineated in the White Paper, and those defects have now disappeared.
I will only make one or two comments on the scale of pensions. I will only make one on the pensions for those partially disabled and possibly permanently disabled. There, whether your pension is adequate or not, will largely depend upon whether the local bodies, which I hope are to be set up all over the country, are dovetailed into your pension system so that they will do their utmost to use their funds for those partially disabled. Everything will depend upon whether or not the man is able to get the right kind of job when possibly he has lost one arm or leg. Perhaps the greatest reservation I want to make is with regard to the question of the pensions to widows. The right hon. Gentleman said, and I think very rightly said, that the Committee was bound to adopt a flat rate of pension. He said that, after all, every man who gave his services took the same risks and made the same sacrifice. Yes, but the widow who is left is called upon to make a great variety in degree of self-sacrifice. The self-sacrifice in the home after the man has gone very much depends on what the income was and what the social condition of the woman was when her husband was alive. I said that I was only going to give my own adhesion to a flat rate of 10s. if a large supplementary sum of money was set aside out of which that flat rate could be very considerably increased in such cases as many of us have in mind, where the man who has died sacrificed an income of £3, £4, £5, and even £6 per week. It is all very well to give the widow of an agricultural labourer or a man who was in the position of an agricultural labourer, or a man earning under possibly 20s. per week, 10s. per week, increasing at thirty-five to 12s. 6d. per week and at forty-five to 15s. per week. When she gets her 15s. per week she is possibly better off than she was in her husband's lifetime. But to offer that 10s., 12s. 6d., and 15s. per week to widows—of whom there are already many hundreds—who are living in houses which would absorb the whole of that money in rent, is indeed to call upon them to make a most unequal sacrifice, and to bring them down from the position which they 2235 very rightly occupied through the whole of their married lives. Therefore I say that, to my mind, the weak spot here is that there is no large supplementary sum set aside by which these low pensions can be increased where they ought to be increased.
The Report points out to the new body that one of its duties is to increase these pensions wherever it is proper to increase them, but when we come to the resources out of which the new body is to find the increase, what does the right hon. Gentleman say? He says that these resources are not to be derived from moneys voted by Parliament, but from the National Relief Fund or from new subscriptions. I am a member of the National Relief Fund, and I am quite ready to vote a sum of money for the purpose of supplementing pensions, although I do not think that we can vote enough; but I do not know, and I have no right to say, whether the National Relief Fund will be willing to part with a large sum for the purpose. They have never been approached, and I do not know what their decision would be. Supposing it refuses to vote any sum, or only votes a moderate sum, what will be the condition of those on this new body? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that at the end of the War, when so many financial needs will have to be met, and when so many subscriptions will have to be paid, there will be a large surplus of money out of which that new body will be likely to draw new subscriptions? I very much doubt it; and when the right hon. Gentleman thanks me for my evidence, may I remind him that there is one piece of evidence which I gave? I said that if I gave my adhesion to a flat rate of 10s. I should expect the Government to place at the disposal of somebody or other a capital sum of something like £5,000,000. I put it at first at £2,000,000, but I increase it to £5,000,000, which I think will be absolutely necessary to meet the enormous demands that will be made if we are to satisfy people that we have treated them generously, and if we are to remove the discontent which will undoubtedly exist if there are thousands, and possibly tens of thousands, of people who have been brought down from a very high position solely by the fact that their husbands have given their lives in the services of the country. I think, therefore, that I must reserve my opinion as to this flat rate of 10s. until I know a little more as 2236 to whether the Government are likely or not likely to produce a considerable sum of money for this new body to utilise for the purpose of supplementing these pensions. I do not say £5,000,000 a year; but £5,000,000 in a capital sum. I have dared to say, and I say again, that I believe if that sum were placed at the disposal of some body, drawn on something like the lines suggested in this Report, a judicious use of the money on the whole would be able to satisfy the country that all really deserving cases had been awarded adequate pensions, particularly in the case of the widow where the husband had given up his life for his country.
I was asked: "At what would you put the maximum pension?" I think that it was a very fair question. I said that I would put the maximum pension at £2 per week, or £100 a year. I would not give a higher pension. If you did your system of pensions for the widows of a private and non-commissioned officers would conflict with your ideas of pensions for officers themselves. I think that £100 a year is a very fair pension. Then I was asked: "On what general principles would you settle whether a person should have a certain pension or not?" I should look to these circumstances: First, to the kind of house in which she had been in the habit of living, to the amount of money which her husband earned, to her own state of health, to her ability and capacity to earn, and whether or not she was a woman who had ever been called upon to earn her living. I should also look a little bit to her relations to see whether they would be able to help her, and whether she had any sons who could assist her. All these circumstances would have to be taken into consideration, and these principles would have to be first settled by this new body or some other body, because it is perfectly obvious that the new body will be pulled in different directions by different people. It must first settle the conditions of eligibility for the new pensions before dealing with the cases themselves. Having settled those principles it will not be very difficult to apply the conditions of eligibility to all new cases that come before the body.
I attach enormous importance to the question whether or not the Government are willing to place a considerable sum of money at the disposal of this body for supplementing pensions. The right hon. Gentleman complimented me on the evidence 2237 I gave and on the scheme which I proposed. He said they had borrowed very largely from the scheme. I wish they had borrowed the whole of it, because I believe the whole of it would be much more palatable to the House, and much more acceptable, than the part of it. I wish to restate what I said on a previous occasion. Personally, having watched and carefully studied this question for years, both as a Commissioner for Chelsea Hospital, as Chairman of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation, and as vice-chairman of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Association, I came to the conclusion, years ago, that all pensions together with the whole system ought to be removed from the War Office and the Admiralty, and put under one pension body with one pension board, so that everybody should know who wanted to do anything for either a disabled soldier or sailor, so that every soldier or sailor who had a pension because of wounds or disease, or any wife who had a separation allowance, or any widow who had a pension through the death of her husband, so that in fact everybody should know there was one body to which they could go, one body which had made the decision. It would also be one body to whom we could look in Parliament and which would be answerable to Parliament for the decisions at which it had arrived.
Personally, I wish that all these bodies which exist now, too many of them overlapping each other, should be absorbed in one body, and that body should be governed by a corporation, and then by an executive chosen by that corporation. I would make members of that corporation all chairmen of county councils, all mayors of towns, and all lord-provosts, or their nominees, and I would have that body meet four times a year, in order to get from the representatives of the people themselves their views as to the general conditions under which pensions should be given. Out of that body I would form an executive committee, such as there is in connection with the Royal Patriotic Fund, which would decide practically the main conditions of eligibility, and deal with all the different cases that come before it. That scheme I think would be a popular scheme and a democratic scheme. It would be one in every way satisfactory to the country. At the same time, having some recollections of Treasury experience, I would take care that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by the process of nomination, and particu- 2238 larly by the process of nominating a paid chairman and vice-chairman, should have considerable control over the money involved in the decisions come to by that body.
That, apparently, was too big a scheme for the Government to take on at the present time. I am obliged to them for having taken part of it, and for thinking of setting up this statutory Committee. I shall be curious to see what relationship this statutory Committee is to occupy to the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation. We must wait for that until we see the Bill. But I want to say of this statutory body that it is extremely important how you choose it. I hope we shall get on that body men and women who have leisure enough to give to this work. That is where, I am afraid, the scheme will break down. I know what the work of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation is; it takes one day a week. But that is nothing—it will be a joke to the work that will have to be done by this new body, which, I believe, will have to sit every day in the week for the next two or three years. I am certain it will not get through its work unless you have a paid chairman and also a paid vice-chairman. Both those offices must be paid offices. I believe this body will have to break itself into two Courts, one to deal with Army cases and one with Navy cases, for these cases do not run on the same lines. I am absolutely convinced that this body will at first require to do an enormous amount of detailed work—work which will necessitate an enormous amount of attention, and I do not think you can well ask any man to give up the whole of his time to this work unless you pay him well and make it a single job for a single man. Personally, I repeat, I think you will have to have both a paid chairman and a paid vice-chairman.
The right hon. Gentleman asks the House to approve the principle but to wait for details. I am perfectly ready to give him my approval of the principle. I would naturally have liked the larger scheme, but I look on this scheme as something better than anything we have got at present, and I believe if you get the right men and right women on this body it will be found to be a workable scheme. But only on this condition, that that body immediately brings into being strong local bodies all over the country, not only in every large town but in almost every small town. I hope that when these bodies are brought into being they will be brought 2239 into being for all purposes connected with the soldier's and the sailor's life. I observe the Report has just been issued of the Committee set up by the Local Government Board to inquire into the question of finding employment for disabled and wounded soldiers and sailors. That Committee has recommended that local bodies shall be brought into being all over the country for the single purpose of finding employment for wounded, diseased, and disabled soldiers and sailors. We have not material enough in the country for many of these committees. You must get the right people to act in large towns, such as Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Edinburgh—you want a committee composed of all those who really take an interest in the lives of soldiers and sailors, who have had great experience in dealing with them, who are in touch with the regimental authorities, who are in touch also with employers of labour, and you want the kind of people, too, who can benefit the wives of the soldiers and sailors. These committees should form subcommittees such as they have in Glasgow and we have in London, and on those committees you should put all those who have really shown an eager desire to help soldiers and sailors by their work during this War.
I heartily congratulate the Select Committee that they have not attempted to frame one scheme by which these local bodies may be formed. It is infinitely better to let Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Norwich, Glasgow, and Edinburgh frame their own schemes. Let us have a variety of schemes. They are working at the present time very differently in Glasgow, in Liverpool, and in London. All these places have different ways of working, and therefore I say let us have a variety of schemes; let us put the right people on the committees, and not necessarily borough councillors, who, perhaps, have never done this particular sort of work. I do not think the pension committees are the right people; neither do I think the pension officers are the right persons to go into houses to make these inquiries. They are estimable people for dealing with old age pensions and with civil pensions, and matters of that kind, but I do not think they have exactly the right touch or the right knowledge with which to adjudicate on the pensions that ought to be given to the wives and families or the widows and orphans of soldiers 2240 and sailors. There may be some towns that would employ them very largely. That would be possible. But under this proposal every town would be able to make its own scheme.
The scheme will depend enormously for its success on the way in which local bodies go to work. I should like to see one of these committees for soldiers and sailors in every county and in every large town. I should like to see them vie with one another, and I believe they will compete with one another as to which can do the best for the disabled soldiers and sailors, or for the widows and orphans of those who have given up their lives for their country. I think you may get some help if you stimulate this kind of competition between counties and boroughs as to which can do the best for those who have served the nation so well. The right hon. Gentleman, indeed, might then hope to get some money from local resources in order to supplement the pensions which the State gives. Whatever pension the State gives, whatever the conditions of eligibility, I can say from long experience there will always be very hard cases that will not come within the conditions laid down by the State, and until some such body as you are proposing is set up, with a human element and a human touch in it, you will not be able to do the amount of work that ought to be done if we are to remove the discontent which is likely to arise.
This body is to have enormous powers; it is to decide on the facts upon which a dependant other than a wife or child will get a pension. This is very important, because it will be deciding whether or not the State will give a pension. The body will, therefore, control State funds as well as voluntary funds. It is going to have the power of saying whether or not any single pension shall be supplemented. It is to have other powers; it will deal with the question of the remarriage of the widow, and it will have the power to say whether a lump sum shall be given or whether it shall be spread over a number of instalments. It will have to make some very delicate inquiries before it can arrive at a conclusion on that very difficult matter. It will have other enormous powers entrusted to it—powers which are not mentioned in either of these Reports. It will be entrusted as a body with the power of deciding whether or not a soldier or sailor died from wounds or disease contracted in the Service. That is not at all an easy matter.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
That will be decided by the Department.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I am sorry if it is to be left to the Department. Everything will depend on what view the Department takes, and who knows who the Department is? If you have a statutory body set up, such as is going to be set up here, a body partly elected and partly representative, everybody will know on what lines its decisions are made; they will know the evidence placed before that body, and the decisions at which it arrives; and I believe they will be far more content with decisions made by some such body as that than they will be with decisions which they may think emanate from some official either at the War Office or at the Admiralty, and which absolutely settles the fate of the unfortunate widow or children for the rest of their lives. There is another difficult question to be decided, and that is when the seven years is to come to an end. Who is to decide this? After the Transvaal War we discovered hundreds and hundreds of cases where men had lived more than seven years, and yet their death was due to disease contracted in the war or aggravated by the War. Again, that is a very difficult question to decide. We take immense pains on the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation in deciding it on medical evidence and so on. Is that to be left to the Department or to the new body?
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I am very sorry to hear it. I find that the Royal Patriotic Fund takes a more generous view of this question than the Government Department; at any rate, it is more responsible and it is easier to arrive at the reasons which it gives for its decisions. All these great powers and many more that I might mention are to be left to this voluntary body. It will have enormous powers and it will require great care and attention and very great labour if these functions are to be adequately performed. I will end, perhaps, on a Treasury note. I hope that this body will contain, from the Treasury point of view, some persons who are fairly stiff in the back, because it is no good blinking the fact that at the present moment there is a good deal of—I do not like to say fraud—but a good deal of "trying it on" on the Treasury and the funds at the present moment. Where there are large public funds going, some people 2242 think they have a perfect right to have them whether they are eligible or not. We want on this body one or two persons who will have their eye on the Treasury, that is, on the taxpayer, because, while we want to be most generous and liberal to the soldiers and sailors who have suffered in our cause and to the widows and the orphans, we also want to be just to the taxpayers who have to find the money. Those taxpayers who will have to find the money are mostly people who will get nothing like these pensions for themselves; they will have to endure many a hardship, and when their time comes to die there will be no such pensions for their widows or orphans. We want both elements on this Committee—the element that looks with generosity and liberality on those who are seeking the pension and the element that will be just to the taxpayers of this country who have to find the money.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I do not intend to follow the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down in all the details into which he entered with regard to the statutory body; indeed, much of what he has said on that matter would have been better reserved until we had the Bill before us. There are, however, one or two things I should like to say on the question of the statutory body. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I should like to see one authority for dealing with the whole question of pensions throughout the country, but I do not think that that body should have the power of spending public money, unless that public money is put aside in such form as a capital fund strictly limited in the sense he suggested. I do not think it would be the proper thing that they should have the power to make grants out of public money beyond that limited fund. As to the local committee, I do not think any local committee ought to have the power to settle any question of fact, or any question dealing with the amount of the pension which is to be paid. In any powers which may be given to any local committees, those questions should be strictly reserved, and the local committees should not be allowed to interfere in them.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I did not read it in that way, and the Home Secretary did not make it quite clear in replying to my question.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Does the hon. Gentleman mean pensions paid out of public money or from private subscriptions?
§ Mr. WARDLE
That was the question I put to the right hon. Gentleman, and his reply was not quite clear to me. Coming back to the question of the Report and speaking on behalf of the Labour Party, who had a representative on the Committee, I desire to say that we feel bound by the action of our representative on that Committee, in a general way, to support the Report which is now before the House. We might possibly individually, and even collectively, differ from some small parts of the Report, and have criticisms to make upon it, if we ourselves had to judge the matter, but as our representative sat upon the Committee, and as he came to the decisions with the other Members, we shall abide loyally by the decisions to which the Committee came. I believe the right hon. Gentleman is correct when he says there has never been in the history of this country, or of any Continental country, so generous a measure of pensions or allowances, but there has never been, so far as this country is concerned, a war like this, which has drawn into the Army members of all classes, and men who have willingly—and we have helped to persuade them to do it—given up situations in which they were earning good money in order that they might serve their country. Therefore we feel that in this great question there is a necessity to rise far above anything that has ever been done before in order that the sacrifices which the men, and particularly the women, are making should be adequately recognised.
There are one or two small points in regard to the Report I desire to raise. I do not know whether this is the right time to raise them. For instance, I want to know whether this new statutory body will have the right to determine such a case as this. At the present moment the War Office have put it on one side and have not faced it. They have brought soldiers' wives back from India. The wife has settled in London, but because she has come back from India she is not allowed the London allowance, which is 3s. 6d. extra. In the case of a woman who has come up from the country voluntarily 2244 to live in London, we can understand their refusal to give the London allowance, but in the case Of women who have been brought back from India, and who have taken up their residence in London because it was the only convenient place where they could take it up, and because their relatives live there and they obtained their living there—in a case like that we ought to know whether the War Office intends to be responsible, or whether this new statutory body is to have the right to say that the extra 3s. 6d. should be given from public funds. That is a point that ought to be brought out, and we ought to know who is to have the decision in the matter. If the War Office is to have the decision, then they ought to come to a decision now, and let us know how the matter stands. There is another point of a similar character in regard to Indian reservists, men who have been in the Service a long time, and who were just on the point of leaving the Army, when they were called up on mobilisation. Those men are not being dealt with in the same manner as the rest of the Forces in regard to separation allowance, and they do not know how they stand with regard to pensions. That is a case which ought to be dealt with by the War Office, rather than that it should be left to the statutory body.
With regard to the whole question of the statutory body, and how it is to be set up, the Home Secretary has rightly said that the proper time to discuss that is when the Bill is before the House. It is a very big question indeed, and the right hon. Gentleman who has just down has given us a variety of questions with which we shall have to deal. I hope that great care will be exercised in setting up any body of this kind, in order that no power is taken from Parliament which rightly belongs to Parliament with regard to the spending of public funds, and also that whatever decisions to which this statutory body may have to come shall only be decisions of fact, and that such allowances as it may have to make shall be made either out of the capital sum, or out of a voluntary funds, and shall not be a Grant out of public funds. These reservations with regard to this statutory body ought to be made by everyone who is jealous of the powers of Parliament.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
(indistinctly heard): I am not going to occupy the attention of the House for many minutes, because the whole subject which is being dealt with 2245 this afternoon has, from the time that the Report was issued, been in the minds, and I believe in the hearts of Members of the House of Commons. They have carefully considered it, and the speeches which have already been made show that on the whole the House has recognised what is a fact, that every Member of the Committee desired to approach this subject with one object only, namely, that of dealing fairly and generously with the men who are making these terrible sacrifices on behalf of their country. Nobody who did not go through all the discussions which took place in the Committee and all the thought we gave to the subject between the meetings of the Committee, could realise how great were the difficulties in many directions, some of which have already been mentioned. I was very pleased indeed to hear what the last speaker said about the spirit in which the party for which he speaks accepts the report. I am most sorry that the hon. Member who belonged to his party, who was a member of that Committee, is not present. Really, there were no parties at all on this Committee. We all had one object in view, and if it is true that the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division (Mr. Barnes) did not get his own way completely in every detail, neither did any of us, but the result in the end was that a scheme was presented to the House of Commons which we all felt was as good as it could be, considering the time and care we were able to give to it, and that it was beyond our power to do more.
Difficulties like those mentioned by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Hayes Fisher) were present to all our minds. For example, there was the hardest case in the whole of this War, the case of the widows of men who had been making very large incomes and who had gone to the front, and of whom so many have died. It means, in their case, that their dependants have had to fall to a lower scale of living than that to which they were accustomed. No sacrifices have been greater than theirs. We in the House of Commons felt the hardship, and before this Committee was set up I myself suggested the idea that there should be a sliding scale instead of a flat rate. I went into the Committee recognising the difficulties of the question, but still determined not to accept the position that it was impossible to carry out a proposition of that kind. The House has to remember that, not only was all this work being 2246 done while the War was going on, but that machinery was already in operation. Therefore, very reluctantly, I came to the conclusion that we should cause some confusion by attempting to upset the general principles upon which the whole thing was being worked. That was what we felt, but I felt strongly that that did not satisfy us and would not satisfy the public mind. We were very anxious that in some other way special cases should be dealt with. How is that to be done? I agree with the hon. Member who spoke last about the difficulty of dealing with particular cases. The view is clearly expressed in our report, and which was entertained by the whole committee, that out of voluntary funds very large relief should be given to exceptional cases. My right hon. Friend made to us in the Committee the suggestion that particular grants should be made from Parliament for that purpose. I wish the House to realise that we did not put that aside without consideration and to realise something else, that the moment a grant is made from public funds, that moment all private subscriptions will dry up. That is the fact. At this moment I believe it is right that private funds should contribute to this object, and I can think of nothing more deserving—that is, for meeting exceptional cases—and I know that all over the country this is being done. While, of course, we had no power to say that the Prince of Wales' Fund should be devoted to this purpose, it is our recommendation that it should be done, and it is my hope that that object will be carried out, and I believe also that once you have set up, as we have done in this statutory Committee, a body in which the public has confidence, cases will be carefully, systematically, and generously considered, and once you have done that there will be a great amount of private subscriptions made available for this purpose. I am sure that is so, but I must say frankly that if it were found that that does not happen, I for one would certainly not be content to accept as universal the flat-system which has always been recommended by the Government. I think we must realise, all of us, that on the whole allowances of all kinds which are made by the State are made in this spirit, which was the spirit of every member of the Committee, and which represents the spirit of the House of Commons and of the country, that however great may be the demands 2247 caused by the War on the financial resources of the country, the men who are giving up their lives in her service and their dependants come first, and that in what we give to them there must be no suggestion that we are not treating them really in a way that the heart and conscience of the country will regard as just and generous.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I am sure the House is grateful to the Government and to this Committee for presenting this Report, and I desire especially to thank the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bonar Law) for what he has said with regard to supplementing the flat rate, if possible, from voluntary sources, and, if not, then in the last resort by further Parliamentary aid. For this scale, as put forward in the first Report, has been welcomed in all parts of the country as a great advance on the scale in the White Paper, while at the same time, realising as we do the great arguments for a flat rate, one knows that in some parts of the country the flat rate here proposed may not, by itself, be adequate. You have in parts of Lancashire, with which I am well acquainted, persons earning far higher wages than in the Midlands and the South who have gone to the War, and whose dependants will really be put in a worse position than would be the case in other parts of the country, and I welcome what has fallen both from the Home Secretary and from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bonar Law) in regard to these matters. There are two or three points which seem to me to arise out of these two Reports. In the first Report it was mentioned that the procedure for the lodging of appeals in these cases would be announced immediately, and we know what the so-called system of appeal is at present. I was told very frankly by the Secretary to the Treasury and the Financial Secretary to the War Office what the present system of appeal is. I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether, under the new system of the statutory Committee, the present system of so-called appeals is not done away with altogether? In my opinion this is the weakest part of the existing system. It is an appeal to the Committee presided over by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Dickinson), whose competence we all acknowledge—an appeal not from a person who is going to get the benefit, but from an official or a committee against the committee or against the official. That is not an appeal in the sense of a person 2248 who is asking for an allowance and for support as being the wife or a child or dependant of a man at the front. It is an appeal from a local decision to a higher authority. It is an appeal between a public body and a public official as to which is right. I know well that very great dissatisfaction is felt as to the use of pension officers generally, and the feeling in some parts of Lancashire is very strong on this, and I have found grounds for quite as strong feeling in rural villages in Northamptonshire; and that being the case, to say that the only appeal shall be when such an official differs from a pension committee is not to give the people really concerned that right of appeal which I am confident must and ought to be given in a much more decisive and much better form.
With that I pass to one or two matters in regard to the second Report. I should like to know whether, when this is called the statutory Committee of the Royal Patriotic Corporation, it means that all the persons put on this must previously be members of the Royal Patriotic Corporation?
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I did not really think it could mean it, but the words themselves convey that impression if they are read independently of the speeches in this House, One will have opportunities, one hopes, when the Bill is brought in, of discussing this in detail. I hope this statutory Committee will not be made more complicated in its composition than is necessary. The more complicated and elaborate and complex you make it, the more difficult it is to fix responsibility and the more confused the public are liable to become as to its character and its influence. I hope, also, there will be some means of making the Committee in some form or other responsible to Parliament. There is great benefit to be obtained, as we know, from executive committees such as the Development Commissioners and the Road Board. It is very desirable that there should be some Minister in Parliament who speaks for these authorities, and who can be subject to Parliamentary criticism and even censure, if occasion should arise.
There is another point which arises here. My right hon. Friend tells me that all cases of fact are to be decided by the statutory Committee, and I think I understand what my hon. Friend below the 2249 Gangway had in mind when he asked that no decision should be taken by a local committee, but that this decision should be taken by the central committee. Yet you may have hundreds and thousands of decisions to take, and if they are taken by a committee meeting in London it may often be very difficult indeed for the person most concerned, living in a remote part of the country, to have his or her case promptly and equitably dealt with. I do not presume to say that I could lay down a system which would meet that. It is difficult, and yet it is imperative, to combine local knowledge, local recommendation, and, to a certain extent, local judgment with giving the real decision to an authoritative committee which will command universal respect and adherence. In all other forms of justice we do all we can to bring justice to the door of the poorest—perhaps not as much as we ought to do, but that is our ideal. Here, when you are having to make a decision which may effect the comfort or even the life of persons who are most of all to be pitied, it is very desirable that your machinery should be so constructed as to combine that easiness of access, that swiftness of application, and that fullness of local knowledge with the authoritative character of the tribunal which gives the final decision.
With regard to the question of these local committees, it is true that the County Councils Association have passed a resolution suggesting that such committees as local pensions committees now in existence might be used for this. At any rate in the rural parts of England it is putting a great burden on people, and on willing people, if you create a fresh committee. Problems of committee work in rural England are even more difficult, because of geographical and other conditions, than in great cities, and without presuming to say definitely or with any dogmatism as to what particular committee ought always to be be used, I ask the Government to consider what I think is the overwhelming, if not the unanimous, wish of the county authorities that some existing committee, if possible, should be made at least the basis of the local committee which is to act in this case. It is not because we want to shirk the work at all, or because we do not want to help in every way in this most important matter, but because of the actual difficulties of putting up yet one more composite committee when we have already more in some parts of England 2250 than we can efficiently staff. These appear to be practical matters which I might be allowed to mention now.
I attach the greatest importance to the system of appeal which is to be brought in in connection with this Report, and in common with every Member of the House we shall look forward with the greatest interest to the production of this Bill. I hope it may be read the first time and printed as soon after the resumption of Parliament after the Whitsuntide Recess as can possibly be done, and that a reasonable interval be given to consider the Bill before we are asked to deal with the Second Reading, especially in view of what my right hon. Friend has said that he welcomes suggestions from all parts of the House, and I can assure him one cannot imagine any part of the House in which suggestions would not come in the spirit of wishing to help in what is not only one of the most pressing duties of the Government and the House, but one of the matters which touches most nearly our sympathies and our affections.
It being a Quarter past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.