§ Mr. BARNES
I beg to move, "That the House do now adjourn."
My excuse for putting the House to the inconvenience of debating this matter tonight is that I think we should not go into recess without making some definite provision for the payment of the soldiers 1967 discharged between the time of their discharge and the time they get their pensions. I am sure that the Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Forster), when he is here, will not think that I am raising the question out of any spite towards him, because there is no more sympathetic Minister who sits upon the Front Bench. I wanted to raise the matter because I believe and feel sure that he is with us, and I think that if he has the sense of the House on the matter he will be in a better position to deal with it satisfactorily. I want it to be perfectly clear that I am not raising the general question of pensions. That question if raised in all its ramifications would take a long time, and would probably result in nothing at all. I hope, therefore, that the Debate will be confined strictly to the smaller question I have mentioned, so that it may be fruitful—that is to say, to make provision for that hiatus between when a man has done with the Army and the time when his pension is settled one way or the other. Up to May last there had been no provision, and then provision was made on paper in something like these terms. It was then provided, by a warrant, I think, issued by the War Office, that when a man was discharged from the Army, and until his pension was settled one way or the other, he would get 10s. a week if single and 20s. a week if married. Then, if subsequently he got a pension and it was more it would be made up to him, or if less the amount he had had in excess of the pension granted to him subsequently would be taken away. I believe it was also stipulated and laid down by the War Office that in the event of a man getting no pension subsequently the War Office would not in any way seek to recover the money. That was fairly satisfactory—at all events it looked fairly satisfactory. It is true that some men would be very considerably reduced, either on the 20s. or on the 10s., and in the case of a married man who was going home the 20s., of course, was an amount of money which would involve considerable hardship to him until the question of his pension was settled, because he would be getting less than his wife was getting on separation allowance, in many cases. But it looked a fair and square settlement, having regard to the fact that the 10s. or 20s. was to be paid whether a man was entitled to a pension 1968 or not, and we were all grateful that that arrangement was made.
What we have to complain about now is that it has not materialised—at least, it has not materialised in very many cases. There it is on paper. Unfortunately, the fact of its being on paper does not satisfy the grocer or the landlord, and therefore there has been a great deal of distress in consequence of the money not having been paid. I know, speaking for the Statutory Committee, that we have had a great many complaints. At one time they were a deluge, and recently they have become almost an avalanche. They are greater absolutely, I do not know about relatively, because part of the trouble is the "Big Push" on the Western front. During the last few weeks men have been sent over in thousands, I suppose, and the whole machinery has been congested therefore, and probably that is the reason for so many cases coming to hand. It has certainly become a physical impossibility for the Statutory Committee to deal with them. I get cases, however, every day. Probably I get more than my fair share I do not know, but it so happens that I am a member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, which has branches all over the country; I am also on the Statutory Committee; and I have been more or less associated with the question of pensions during the last two years. It is possible, therefore, that I may get more than my fair share. At all events, the fact remains that there never passes a day over my head without my getting a letter from some poor soul in distress, hard put to it to get the bare necessaries of life, either for the man's wife or for the man himself, whose claim has gone in for a pension, who is waiting for a pension, and who sometimes has nothing to eat. I must admit that they are getting on my nerves. I send the cases to the War Office or hand them over to the Statutory Committee, and then, in a few days, I get a reminder about some particular case. I cannot trace it because, as I say, it gets on my nerves so that I cannot sleep for it, and, whatever happens, I shall have simply to give it up, because I cannot face it.
Apart, however, from our own individual experiences in this matter, I want to point out to the Financial Secretary the effect of this in the country. I sent the hon. Gentleman the other day a newspaper article written by R. J. Campbell, who is a man of great influence with large sections of 1969 the community, and who was writing a two-column article in one of the illustrated Sunday papers of, I think, last Sunday. In it he gave details of cases of hardship which have come under his observation, in one particular case where he has seen the soldier himself, who had been disabled some time ago, who had got no pension, no allowance, no anything, and whose wife had to char to keep that man alive. These cases are having an effect on public opinion throughout the country. People are getting incensed that after all the high-faluting rhetoric that has been indulged in in every town and village, from one end of the country to the other, and after all the bills saying that "Your King and Country Need You," and that your wife and family will be looked after, and all the rest of it, it comes down to this: that if a man goes away, and remains away for months on end in the trenches, and is wounded, there is no assurance that when he comes home he will get that pension or allowance which has been promised. Let me read one letter. As I say, I have letters every day. Here is the last one, which I received this morning. It is written from Swindon:I am writing to solicit your assistance on behalf of the person named in this letter, whom I am personally acquainted with, Under the distressing circumstances, and knowing the interest you take in Army pensions, and being a member of the A.S.E., I thought I could not do better than to put the matter in your hands. The particulars are as follows: Private John— 4th/7th Middlesex Regiment, E Company; enlisted Maidstone Barracks 9th March; was sent to Purfleet on the 10th, was vaccinated, and inoculated—And then he goes on to say:This poor man was sent ultimately to an asylum at Maidstone, where he is at the present moment. After he had been there three weeks he received his discharge from the Army. His wife's allowance of 17s. 6d. for herself and child was discontinued, and she is now left to her own resources.That is the last letter; that came to hand this morning, dated from Swindon yesterday. The one before that was also of yesterday, from a constituent. It says:Dear Sir, as I am one of your electors from the South Side I was told by one of the Health Commissioners to write to you and explain my case. I joined the Highland Light Infantry in March, or the beginning of April, 1915. I was took ill during my drilling. I returned, was examined by the doctor, and put on light duty. I…got worse, and was sent to —Hospital—And then he goes on—I need not read all of it, but the upshot is this—speaking of the Health Commissioners:They told me they would do their best for me about a pension. I waited, and then received a letter from the Commissioners…saying they were very sorry the Committee could not do anything for me.Those are the last two of my letters, one received this morning and the other re- 1970 ceived last night, or in the early hours this morning, after I got home. These letters are coming to me almost daily. I want to put in a letter showing the case of a borough. I have a letter here from the local committee serving under the War Pensions Committee in a borough just outside London, not twenty miles from here. I am not at liberty to say where it comes from. It is from the town clerk, who says:I enclose a schedule of cases in which, so far as I know, no temporary pension has been given to the man on discharge. This schedule has been made out in a great hurry. If necessary I shall be glad to go into any of the cases further, and forward them to you. I was under the impression that every man discharged from service was entitled to this temporary pension, and that it was given as soon as a man came out. It would save much anxiety to the man and much expenditure of money by this committee…If the pension comes through at a later stage it does not become known to myself, and the man is too heavily in debt to recover.He goes on to give me a list of cases. There are no less than thirty-four cases. The name of every man is given, and the hurt or disease, as the case may be, is set out in tabulated form with the date of his discharge. The town clerk says that not one of these men has, as yet, got that temporary allowance to which, on paper, he was entitled as from May last. The first one is:Private Frederick Charles Rich, 3rd East Surreys, No. 1010. Suffering from rheumatism and rupture. Discharged 9th June, 1916.That is over two months ago. The next one is:Private John Matthews, 24th Labour Battalion,—he is suffering from some long name which I cannot pronounce—discharged 23rd June, 1916.Private Stanley Wenham, 2–4 Queen's, 3180, right leg amputated, discharged 6th June, 1916,That is over two months ago. I will not weary the House by reading them all through, but here they are. I shall be very glad to hand them to the Financial Secretary for his inspection and to deal with them as he thinks proper. I assume that they are all right. They come from a duly accredited local committee, acting under the Statutory Committee. The letter is from the town hall, and the name of the town clerk is printed at the top of the letter.
That is the case. Let me say a few words about the cause of the trouble. It is perfectly clear. One would have thought, having regard to the immense expansion of the Army during the last two years, that the simple, logical and proper thing would be to lessen work as much as 1971 possible, instead of which the root cause of all this trouble lies in unnecessarily increased work. Take the first of these cases. Here we have Private Frederick Charles Rich, who was discharged from, the Army on 9th June last. I do not know how long he had been in the Army; probably for a year. What could be more simple than to leave that man on pay until his pension is settled? That seems to me to be a very simple thing to do, and not only simple but the right and just thing to do. What business has the War Office to discharge that man? Mr. Rich may have left a good job two years ago in order to join the Army. He might have been in receipt of £2 a week. He has been away all this time serving his country. His wife may have been in receipt of a separation allowance of £1 a week, or a little more than that, just sufficient to keep body and soul together for herself and her children. He cannot have saved much out of the 3s. 6d. a week which he received when in the Army, because by the time he had bought beer and tobacco it was all gone. The War Office seem to think that this man has a banking account. He has not. Therefore the proper thing to do is to keep on his pay, whatever it may be, until such time as the War Office may decide one way or the other whether he is to have a pension. Then if he is not to have a pension we have set up a Statutory body to deal with that kind of case, one of whose functions is to see that these men, who for some reason or other are not entitled to a pension from the War Office, are dealt with. There are such cases; we all admit it. We need not go into them. In the cases of men who are subsequently found not to be entitled to a pension, the proper thing for the War Office to do is to keep the man on his pay, whatever it may be, and on his separation allowance, until such time as the question of pension is settled. Then the man would automatically go on from the pay to the pension, or from pay to the allowance from the statutory body, as the case might be.
What is the objection to that? If there are objections, let us face them. There are some cases where a man is not entitled to a pension. There it may be said that it involves the payment of State money to a man who is subsequently found not to be entitled to it. Also it is open to the objection that a man might receive more when he was getting 10s. or 20s. a week than he would be entitled to receive 1972 subsequently from his pension. Let us look at what happens on the other side. A man is on pay fight up to the time of his discharge. I assume, that there is a certain amount of book-keeping to be done in regard to that—entries to be kept up and a staff to make them. But as from that time you start another set of books. As from the time the man is discharged until he gets the pension—it may be two, three, or four weeks, or, as in these cases, over two months—you start a wholly new set of machinery, with, I suppose, a large staff in Baker Street, and with all the expense involved therein, to deal with these men for the temporary period or that hiatus that ought to be filled up by continuing the man on his pay. There is that on the other side to be set off against the expense involved in continuing a man on his pay. There is also the simplicity of it. Why go in for unnecessary expense and complication when it is so simple to keep a man on his pay instead of making any alteration at all1? That is my case. I should like to conclude, as I began, by assuring the Financial Secretary to the War Office, who was not here then, that I do not raise this question out of any spite of him.
§ Mr. BARNES
He has always been very sympathetic, and I have no complaint to make of him at all. I hive never put a case to him without his attending to it promptly and, as far as he could, satisfactorily. I want rather to arm him with sufficient powers, coming from this House, on behalf of the country, to stop this scandal, shall I call it—it is a scandal— of men who have gone in response to the appeal of the country to serve it finding, after they come back, that they have to wait from two to five weeks, or as in the cases I have quoted, from two to three months, without receiving any money, being in some cases unable to work and almost put to their wits' ends to get at the necessaries of life.
§ Mr. CROOKS
I beg to second the Motion.
I, like my right hon. Friend, am a little uncertain as to how the Financial Secretary is taking it. The whole House is full of sympathy. The whole House believes in what he proposes, but the difficulty is to get it carried out. There has always been a circumlocution office in Government 1973 Departments, where one Department hands it on to another, and you never get there all the time. The difficulty of keeping a man going when he comes out of the Army is far and away greater than one could imagine offhand. A man endeavours to fight bravely for his country, but when he comes out he wants something to fall back upon before he can start work, and the reason why we are pleading so hard for that man is because you are breaking his heart. If he gets into debt he will never get out of it. The pension will not allow him to do it. The House is in favour, and who will deny that the country is in favour? I have been on platforms by the score, and I have said, calling attention to the placards on the wall, "Your King and Country need you," and I have always added, "Your wives, your children, and your sweethearts demand you, and never again as long as Britain stands will it see its wounded warriors either begging in the streets or going to the workhouse for an order to go in." What is the result of that speech-making? I know a case, which I will not identify because the man is too sensitive, but it is sufficient to say that he is discharged on 7s. 6d. per week pension. A lady who heard me make the observation I made a minute or two ago wrote me a letter: "My dear Sir,— I heard you speak in So-and-so town. You said that every wounded warrior would be properly looked after by his country. You are a liar. And the worst of it is, you knew you were lying when you said it." I at once wrote and sent her down the scheme of the Statutory Committee. She was appeased. All this time we are waiting, waiting, waiting. Is it because there are not men enough to carry it out, or is it that there are too many officials already doing the same kind of work? The work is duplicated. This is not the fault of the Financial Secretary. In this scheme civil paymasters and military paymasters are so mixed up that it takes a Department something like 5,000 strong to deal with the duplication every day. If it was well known that a man's pay would continue until his pension was settled, surely they would hurry up the Pension Department and they would pay to get him off his military pay. But I need not prolong the agony. I heartily ask the House, and I know the country ask the House, and I know the country is asking the Treasury, 1974 to see that these men do not suffer. After all, if you break a man's heart you cannot easily mend it again.
§ Mr. FORSTER
The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Barnes) was good enough to refer to the fact that at any rate I am not hostile to the views which he has put forward. I do not think anyone else charged with the responsibility of administering pensions under circumstances such as we find ourselves in in these days could take a hostile view of any Motion which is designed to strengthen his hands in dealing with cases such as my right hon. Friend has brought forward. He has asked to move the Adjournment of the House in order to call attention to a definite lacuna in our system. He has given a brief outline of the history of the conception of the allowance of 10s. or 20s., according as to whether or not a man is entitled to separation allowance, reminding the House that this was specially created and designed in order to tide him over between the date of his discharge and the date on which the pension is fixed. He put a question to me to-day with reference to the delay in getting these allowances into the hands of the men who ought to receive them. I have been giving close personal attention to this question for some weeks and when I saw my right hon. Friend's question I hesitated as to whether to take the usual attitude of a man who stands at this box and says everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds or whether frankly to admit that there has been delay and to try to satisfy his mind that I was taking such steps as were open to me to deal promptly and effectively with the evil which I recognise.
§ Mr. BARNES
I intended to say that the reply to-day was so satisfactory that in ordinary circumstances I should have been quite satisfied, but I had in my mind that we adjourn next Tuesday, and therefore I wanted the pressure of the House to be brought to bear before we rise.
§ Mr. FORSTER
Then I shall not say anything more about it. I was going to say that my frank acknowledgment that there was room for improvement has not met with a very encouraging response. I am not sure that I do not realise now better than I did before what my right hon. Friend has in view. I think what ho wants, besides an assurance that things are being done, is an assurance that this 1975 question is not going to be allowed to slide the moment the House rises. I can give him that assurance in the most complete form, and with the greatest possible intention that it shall be carried out. I am responsible for having started this allowance and I intend to be responsible for seeing that it is paid. It is not a question of my Department. I take the responsibility on my own shoulders. I am looking into the matter myself, and I intend to see that if there is any obstacle put in the way of this allowance being issued it is going to be removed. When we are dealing with a very large number of men, and when we have to deal with them according to definite and settled rules, it is inevitable that there must be a certain number of cases where delay occurs and difficulties arise. Whatever system we introduce there will always be a certain number of cases where prompt action is not taken, and we can only do everything that is possible to reduce that number to the lowest possible point and to trust to other agencies, either voluntary or statutory, to take care of those whom the officials whom I represent are unable to deal with at the moment. The Government had this very point in view when it called into being the Statutory Committee of which my right hon. Friend is so distinguished a member. I entirely agree with him that we must see to it that the number of cases where delay arises is reduced to the very lowest possible point. My right hon. Friend made an offer to send me a list of thirty-four cases of delay in which no pension has been given, and in which this temporary allowance has not been issued. I do not know how long my right hon. Friend has had that list. I think he said it had only just reached him.
§ Mr. FORSTER
Thank you. I would appeal to all Members of the House, and to all members of the public, if they know of cases like this, do not let them bottle them up, but send them along, and let us get them attended to. I should like to say —recognising, as I have done, that there is delay in a larger number of cases even now than I care to contemplate, or that I contemplate with pleasure or satisfaction —that applications by the men or by those representing the men in person or by letter to the Pension Issue Office will be sufficient to put the issue of these special allowances 1976 to the men in train. Some people may imagine they have to go through all kinds of ceremonies and formalities and fill up all sorts of forms. That is not so in connection with this allowance, which is intended to be elastic, to be easy of issue, and to be free, as far as possible, from the trammels of red tape. As regards these allowances, we do not ask for anything further than a simple statement of the facts, and on that we proceed to go to work.
§ Sir G. TOULMIN
May I ask if the application has to be sent to the Pension Office in Baker Street, London, by letter?
§ Mr. FORSTER
Yes, and to all soldiers discharged on medical grounds—those whose cases will eventually go to Chelsea. My right hon. Friend said, "Let us go to the cause of the trouble." Well, I have been trying to get to the cause of the trouble for weeks, and I get a little nearer to it, I think, every day, and I am not sure that I have not got right to the bottom of it. I should like to remind the House that the best way of dealing with this particular case that we are reviewing to-night is to speed up Chelsea—to speed up the issue of the pensions to which the men are really entitled. That is the thing I have been trying to get done ever since my attention was drawn to this matter in, I think, March or April last. It is only fair to Chelsea to remind the House of the difficulty of the problem with which they have to deal. The issue of all these pensions according to special regulations are necessarily matters that involve very great care on the part of the staff that has to deal with them. One of the difficulties that we have had to encounter has been the difficulty of getting a trained staff. The second difficulty was that, owing to the enormous increase in the numbers with which we had to deal, there was great difficulty in getting sufficient accommodation. That accommodation has 1977 now been provided in the form of hutments and so forth, and I hope by dint of gradually improving our trained staff, and gradually training those who are imperfectly trained in the first instance, and also by gradually increasing our accommodation, that from this month onwards we shall be in a position at the Royal Hospital to deal with the enormous numbers which we presently will have to cope with. Difficulty No. 3 is this: The House will remember that they kept urging me in the interests of economy and urging my right hon. Friend who is now Secretary for Scotland (Mr. Tennant), and urging everybody connected with the War Office to clear out of the Army the enormous number of men who, it was alleged, ought never to have been taken into it because they were physically unfit, and who were, therefore, costing the country large sums of money which ought to be saved. I need not go into ancient history. Certainly I did as far as I could, and I know my right hon. Friend did, impress upon the military authorities the desirability of getting these unfit men out of the Army, and although our efforts were possibly not brought to full fruition quite as speedily as we hoped, at any rate in the past few months there has been a heavy exodus of unfit men from the Army.
I am stating the position quite frankly, so that the House may realise the difficulties with which Chelsea has had to deal. If you take a comparatively untrained staff, with insufficient accommodation, and you throw upon them an enormous increase in the burden of work which they have to do, you cannot avoid having delay. Supposing you had thrown it upon the shoulders of the. Statutory Committee, or any other body, you would have had just the same difficulty, because an untrained staff cannot deal with it with rapidity. That was one of the difficulties which we had to face. We have now at the Royal Hospital an increased staff and increased accommodation, and we are able to deal more rapidly with the cases, and I think it is only fair to say that we have already improved by 100 per cent, the number of the cases in which the pension is settled before the man is discharged. That, however, is not good enough. It will not be good enough until we have dealt with practically everything, and that is what we are aiming at, that is the goal towards which all of us strive. Meanwhile, we have got to deal with the number of cases where, the man is discharged and the pension is 1978 not fixed. My right hon. Friend says, "Why not carry on his pay?" That is a very simple proposal, and it is the first thing I looked at before I started this temporary allowance. I said, "Why not continue his pay until his pension is fixed?" and, as I said in answer to my right hon. Friend to-day in a supplementary question, there are practical difficulties of continuing this man on his pay. I will not go into all of them, but let us take two—the case of a man in hospital, and that of a man not in hospital. The same thing practically applies to both. The man is discharged and goes home, and you say, "Continue him on pay." But there is nobody to pay him. The whole system of Army pay is payment by the regimental officer. When a man goes into hospital-the actual payment to him in cash stops.
His pay is credited to his account in the office of the regimental paymaster. He can when he leaves hospital get into communication with the regimental paymaster and draw such balance of pay as may be due to him. But the regimental paymaster, in issuing payment, naturally has to be careful that he is in possession of all the man's transactions with regard to his pay before he was wounded or fell ill. There is exactly the same state of affairs in the case of a man who is discharged and is not in hospital but in one of the Army depots. He goes home. There is nobody to pay him. It was because of the difficulty in actually getting the money into the man's hands that we started this scheme of interim allowance. This is infinitely simpler. Payment must be or ought to be infinitely more prompt. The payment will be made by the men who will issue the pension as soon as the pension is fixed. That is another great advantage in favour of this allowance as against the retention of the man on pay. Why, then, are there so many men who are not getting their allowance? A considerable number of soldiers have been discharged on a form of discharge which is improperly filled up. They are discharged as unlikely to become efficient soldiers on medical grounds. When a man is discharged as unlikely to become an efficient soldier on medical grounds he is generally a man man who has not become medically unfit, but it is because he has got some inherent defect which prevents him from becoming an efficient soldier. The man who is discharged as medically unfit as a rule is a man who has been fit, but who either 1979 has been wounded or owing to disease or some other cause has ceased to be medically fit. We have issued the most strict instructions with regard to the proper filling up of these forms, in order that that particular mistake may be avoided in future.
It may be said, "After all, suppose you have a mistake of that kind, surely that does not account for withholding the allowance in these cases." It does account for a great many of the cases of delay in this matter. That is one of the causes that I have been able to run to earth. Then I have found a number of claims where there was really no claim to a pension at all. Then there is the question to which I have alluded, the very heavy clearances from the Army and the consequent enormous increase of work on the part of the pension authorities. What are we to do to remedy it? We are all agreed that some remedy must be found. During the last two or three days I have been going closely into this question with all the various branches of pay offices, pension offices, record offices, medical people and everybody concerned, and I hope that as a result of numerous conferences which I have had we may be able to cut out a large chunk of the present procedure and simplify the communication of the fact that the man is going to be discharged from the record office to the pension issue office, where the allowance is issued. I have found cases of quite avoidable delay in various steps of the channel of communication. I propose to cut out a number of those steps and to make the communication from the record office to the pension issue office direct, and I hope by that means to convey the fact that the man is going to be discharged to the pension issue office at a considerably earlier date than the information reaches them, and I hope that by that means we shall be able to provide for the issue of this allowance in every case.
I do not think that I need elaborate the matter further. I think what my right hon. Friend wished to know was whether there is any real intention to push the thing, whether he could get any real assurance that the matter was not going to be allowed to drift during the Parliamentary Recess when he and others would no longer be able to exercise such direct pressure on those who are responsible, and 1980 whether the thing was being approached in a practical and sympathetic spirit. I can assure" him that it is. I can give him an assurance on each of these three points. I am not going to allow red tape to stand in the way of getting those allowances into the hands of those who are entitled to them. It has been said that we have got a large amount of red tape. I hope that what I have said may at any rate show my right hon. Friend that we are alive to the real necessity of pressing this matter forward, and I hope that in those circumstances he will not think it necessary to pursue the matter further.
§ Mr. CURRIE
I am one of those who have always acted on the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, that we should send cases such as these along to him and his staff without delay. I think that the hon. Gentleman has been marvellously successful in dealing with an enormous problem. I am full of admiration for the way in which he has done so. At the same time I have quite recently had to send on particulars of one or two really very distressing cases. Though constituencies like mine, and those of many other hon. Members, are not full of eases of that kind, yet, still, there is a sufficient number to amount to something when they are piled one on top of the other. I was enormously relieved to hear what the hon. Gentleman has told us to-day. I would like to make one suggestion, which I hope he will find practicable, and I am sure that if he can fall in with it he will do so. He tells us that he is just on the point of bringing some further reforms into operation, but before we part for the Recess I would ask the hon. Gentleman, can he give us an assurance that he hopes and believes that within, say, the next fortnight or three weeks these reforms will be in operation, and that no further cases of this sort of complaint will be arising. Possibly, within a very few days, he may be able to bring these reforms into operation.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I shall be very much disappointed if they are not in operation by the end of this week.
Major-General Sir IVOR HERBERT
I must say that everybody must have been struck with the very sympathetic manner in which this question has been dealt with by the Financial Secretary to the War Office. I have been closely associated with 1981 my right hon. Friend (Mr. Barnes), who moved the Adjournment of the House on this question, on the Statutory Committee. On that body, I confess, I took, very strongly, the view which we conveyed to the War Office, that the only way to deal with this was by detaining the men on pay until their pensions were settled. But on going closer into the matter, and when I listened to my hon. Friend just now, I felt convinced that the real point that one had to aim at was that where the Army authorities lose touch with the man who is not yet taken up, as it were, by the Pension Pay Office. I was going to make the suggestion, which now comes rather late, because I think my hon. Friend is going on the same idea, which was in my mind, that a man should not be parted with by the military authorities until they are certain that his case is dealt with at the pension office, or that they are prepared in that Department to deal with him, and will probably grant him his demand before he goes away home, if he stays at home, or keep in communication with them if he does not. There does not seem to be any great difficulty about that, except the difficulty of detaining him, which I am glad to see is being dealt with by the capable hands of my hon. Friend. I feel, after the words that have fallen from him, much easier in my mind as to these men who will be dealt with, and there will not be that terrible time of waiting and uncertainty which has been experienced. Personally I must say, though perhaps it may seem a little ungracious to my hon. Friend, that I do not like these temporary pensions at all, for this reason, that there is connected with them the condition that they may be asked to refund a portion of what they have received, if the pension eventually granted is found to be at a lower figure than the amount of the temporary allowance, in which case a deduction will have to be made.
§ Mr. FORSTER
May I correct my hon. and gallant Friend by stating that we are deliberately taking on the shoulders of the State the difference, where there are any of these ordinary deductions. Where the pension is less than the amount of temporary allowance, we do not recover from the recipient of the pension the difference between the two.
§ Sir IVOR HERBERT
I am very glad to have had that made quite clear, and I will not pursue the subject any further.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars (Mr. Barnes) on having brought forward this grievance, which is felt very much here, and which is also felt in Ireland. I also congratulate him on having brought this matter to a successful issue, because no one who has had the pleasure of listening to the hon. Gentleman who represents the War Office can fail to see that he has taken in the matter of pensions for soldiers a most sympathetic interest, and the pledge he has given that he will himself take personal charge of all applications of this kind I think affords us all reason to believe that the cases in which such grievances as the right hon. Member for Blackfriars has brought before the House will be extremely rare in future. The sole point, as I understand it, which is raised in the present discussion, is the difficulty and hardship which are met with in the case of discharged soldiers from the time of their discharge until the amount of their pension is fixed by the War Office. I have known cases myself brought to the attention of the hon. Gentleman's Department, cases from the West of Ireland, where great distress was felt and great hardship inflicted not only on the discharged soldier but on members of his family, through the delay of issuing to him the £1 allowance provided for married men, and 10s. for single men. It has occurred to me that you have not only hardship on the discharged soldier himself and his immediate relatives and dependants, but you stultify the work of the Statutory Pensions Committee, because the Statutory Pensions Committee is debarred from taking up and dealing with cases of this kind until the War Office has determined the amount which it is prepared to pay to the discharged soldier. The simple remedy for this grievance would be to compile in the Register Department a special register of men discharged from the Army, and on the discharge of the individual soldier seeing that the rate has been fixed, upon the advice of the Financial Secretary to the War Office, on a flat basis of £1 for married men and 10s. for single men, it seems incomprehensible that there should be a delay, in any case, of three or four weeks before the money is paid. I received to-day a case from Sligo, my Constituency, where a man had been kept for five or six weeks without an allowance, which it had been intimated to him would be paid to him. I must say that immediately on my representing the facts of 1983 the case to the hon. Gentleman's Department I received the assurance that instructions would at once be issued, and that the payment would be made. I am very pleased indeed that the Financial Secretary to the War Office has given such a sympathetic answer to the Member for Blackfriars, and I join in the hope that in future there will be none of the delay which has occurred in the past.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I think the House is indebted to my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars for bringing this matter to our attention, and I desire to associate myself with him in what he has said regarding the hon. Gentleman who holds the office of Financial Secretary to the War Office. I think all of us must feel indebted to him for the unvarying kindness and courtesy with which he tries to meet us in connection with the many cases we have to bring under his notice. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars I have had a considerable number of these cases. I think that must be the common experience of most of us who have the honour and privilege of representing large industrial constituencies. I think our indebtedness to the Financial Secretary is increased to-night by the sympathetic way in which he has met my right hon. Friend. Personally, however, I should like to say that I am not at all sure that the sketch he outlined to us to-night will meet the difficulties of the situation. I recognise the difficulties that the hon. Gentleman is under in carrying out his good intentions. In outlining what he thought might be done with a view to reducing the complaints regarding this matter, he said one of the first things that we should turn our attention to is speeding up at Chelsea. I think that the Commissioners at Chelsea have a very difficult task and that the best thing for the Financial Secretary and those associated with him at the War Office to take into serious consideration with a view to speeding them up would be to multiply the staff there ten times. That was the remark made by an hon. Member beside me when the hon. Gentleman spoke of speeding up. He was of opinion that that extension would be required in order to speedily deal with the number of pension claims which are likely to come before that body.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
There is also the difficulty brought before us of getting an adequate trained staff to deal with the method which the Financial Secretary outlined. I am not sure but that he would be well advised to consider the suggestion of my right hon. Friend that he should keep these men on their Army pay and continue the separation allowances until the question of pensions had been settled, and I am not sure that it would not be an easier way out of the difficulty and a less expensive way than the setting up of an entirely new Department to deal with the question of temporary allowances. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the difficulty of sending the pay to the soldier when he is discharged, but I think it would be no more difficult for the paymaster and his staff to do so and to continue the separation allowance than it would be to set up a new staff and a new office. I urge on the hon. Gentleman to give this suggestion serious consideration and also to give attention to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Currie) as to this matter being attended to in the next fortnight and also as to paying the arrears that are due to a considerable number of men in various parts of the country. The simplest method, I think, would be that of continuing the pay and the separation allowance.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I spoke so recently on this subject that I do not propose to refer to it at any length now. I do want to put a suggestion in the form of a question. This delay is a very serious one to the poor soldier and his dependants. We all recognise that. I think my right hon. Friend perhaps agrees that what the Financial Secretary said about continuing the Army pay may make it impossible to adopt his suggestion. What the House wants, I think, is a suggestion which will avoid the delay and get the money promptly into the hands of the men in whose hands it ought to be. I think that the real danger is the first week in which the man leaves the Army medically unfit before he gets to Baker Street, or before he writes to any of us or consults anybody who is able to go to Baker Street. I suggest that before he leaves his regiment the first 10s. or £l, as the case may be, should be given to him so that he could carry it home and thus provide for the first week, and inside that week Baker Street could deliver to him his book of drafts, so that at the end of the second week he could go to the 1985 post office and get the second draft. I do not know whether that is practicable, but, if it is, I think it would solve the difficulty.
§ Mr. FORSTER
A man is entitled to a gratuity of £2 on his discharge, and we have arranged that he shall have at least £l in his pocket, which is intended to carry him over the first week, and that we should be able to see that he gets his money before the end of the first week. That is what I am trying to do, but he does take away at least £1.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Could he not also have the advantage of having the book of drafts in his pocket, which could be sent from Baker Street to the regiment? That would leave him in the position of having the gratuity, and with the drafts he could go in the local post office in Leith Burghs, Blackfriars, Fife, or wherever it might be, and get the second pound. I commend that suggestion to the hon. Gentleman. I believe in the Financial Secretary, and I think he is pushing the thing as hard as any man could push it. I have sent him probably as many letters as anybody, and I have never had a discourteous reply from him. He has settled the bulk of them very satisfactorily, and I am very well satisfied. I am sure he does not deprecate discussion of this kind, because he realises that the more often we discuss the matter the more likely are we to straighten it out.
§ Sir G. TOULMIN
I am sure that the House will consider the statement made by the Financial Secretary one of the most satisfactory announcements that he has ever made. We seem really to be getting close to a solution of what is a very distressing difficulty. I think we are all very glad to see that the Financial Secretary has not hesitated to use the scissors, and I say more power to the scissors that cut difficulties of red-tape in this way. As I understand it, if a discharged man belongs to the provinces and does not live in London he will still have to apply by letter to Baker Street.
§ Mr. FORSTER
This is only in the case where he does not get the allowance. What ought to happen now—what does happen in the great majority of cases and what ought to happen in all cases—is that the man's name, address, and date of discharge are communicated to the Pension Issue Office in Baker Street. As soon as they get that information, they send the weekly payment to the man at that address. If the man does not get his 1986 payment, let him write to Baker Street and make his application. But there ought to be no need for making any application.
§ Sir G. TOULMIN
That explanation quite meets the point I had in mind, and I hope the fact will become widely known as a result of the explanation made in this Debate. The point is that all those people who are not getting their payments now, or someone on their behalf, had better make application straight to the office in Baker Street, but in all the new cases the hon. Gentleman hopes that the matter will be seen to. In a short time we ought to be able to work off all the past cases, but if any do recur we shall know how to cure them by communicating at once with Baker Street. But I have rather a feeling that the pressure will increase. More men will be discharged disabled; and I am not sure whether this system will avoid all the accidents which the hon. Member said occur when there are such large numbers to be dealt with. I still have the feeling that it might be advisable not to shut out of mind the question of letting a man go on furlough and continuing the separation allowance and pay. With regard to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), would it not be better to continue the separation allowance for a week rather than give the man extra money just when he was going home? If the wife knew that there would be separation allowance at the end of the week, many of these cases which are so distressing would be met. In regard to the lack of machinery for paying the soldiers, I do not see why, if the separation allowance was continued, that could not be left over and settled up at the same time as the pension. The pension is granted dating back. There is some money to be sent, and a settlement might be made according as the War Office decided. If the family had something equivalent to the separation allowance the difficulty would be very largely met.
§ Mr. WING
I should like to associate myself with the remarks of the right hon. Member for Blackfriars and to thank the Financial Secretary for the sympathetic reply he has given. I think the discussion will show to the country that the House is really interested in this question, and that the Financial Secretary is doing his best to cope with the difficulty. I do not know whether the experience of other hon. 1987 Members is the same as my own, but I believe that these difficulties are much fewer than they were. There has been a sensible decrease. I wish to say that because people are so apt to imagine that there is no improvement and no dealing with the matter. Personally, I think there has been a swift diminution during the last three months, and also that the Sailors' and Soldiers' Society in my district have been dealing very promptly with such cases as I have brought to their notice. There is really something that the local people have to do as well as the War Office, in paying attention to these people and seeking the aid of such associations as exist. I should like to associate myself with the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Blackfriars, that if possible the full allowance should be maintained until such time as the matter is settled. I am sure that all Members of the House feel that if the Financial Secretary had the settling of these matters there would be a swift adjustment. But there seems to be some formal machinery which makes for delay, and this delay causes much dissatisfaction. It has a very bad effect in the country. It leads writers to exaggerate the state of affairs, and a large number of people who have no claim whatever themselves begin to exaggerate the matter. I really believe that there are more complaints by people who are not entitled to any payment than there are by people who are so entitled. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] That is my belief. Personally, I am exceedingly pleased with the spirit in which the Financial Secretary has responded to my right hon. Friend's request, and I feel certain that this discussion will do good in the country by showing that this House is in earnest, and that the War Office itself is endeavouring to deal with the difficulty.
§ Mr. PETO
It is quite evident from this Debate that the Financial Secretary's attention has been closely drawn to this question, and I have no doubt that the attention of the Chelsea Commissioners, whose staff we have been told is very much overworked at present, has also been very closely called to this particular branch of the pensions question. The Financial Secretary stated that the incorrect or improper filling up of the discharge papers was responsible for the delay in a great many cases. I hope that in dealing with 1988 the question of men discharged from the Army through disability, the even more serious case of men who die leaving widows dependent will not be left out of account or delayed by the settling of these other cases. I understand that the 10s. and the 20s. allowance, which the hon. Member has come to the conclusion is the best interim solution, docs not apply to the case where a man dies leaving a widow. I have had one or two cases brought to my notice lately which show that in some instances, at any rate, extraordinary hardship is involved. I have one case in mind where a man died as the result of gas poisoning as far back as the 16th April last, and the widow has received no pension and no assistance whatever except from the Church Army people, with the result that the home has been sold up and three of the children are now in the workhouse. I hope that, in his anxiety to deal with the case of the discharged soldier, the hon. Gentleman will not allow the Chelsea authorities to rail behind in settling these even more grievous cases.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance, because that is covered by what I said before.
§ Mr. PETO
I am glad to hear that. I have sent the hon. Gentleman, through the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board, whose business, I thought, it was to deal with the matter, particulars of the case to which I have alluded. I hope that during the Recess the matter will be satisfactorily dealt with, and that there will be more promptness in dealing with the cases of men who die leaving widows or other dependants.
§ Mr. HODGE
The subject which was originally introduced seems to me to have been so satisfactorily met that it is hardly worth while to pursue it further. But we must not think that it exhausts the sum of grievance against the War Office. I have had a case placed before me of an old woman of seventy who gave her only son to King and country. He was killed. She had an old age pension of 5s. per week. Her War Office pension has ceased as a consequence of her being an old age pensioner, and the only allowance that she has for the purpose of keeping her from starvation is an old age pension. It is a disgrace to those responsible for it. It is one of the things which I am sure the- 1989 country as a whole would agree with me in characterising as I have done. I had a letter of the widow's pointing out that the pension had been taken from her. I have sent all the particulars to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, and I dare say that he will give them every due consideration. He has always done so in any case that I have submitted to him, and, like many other Members, I imagine I have had more than my share. At the same time, if there is a declaration from a responsible member of the Government that such a thing is absolutely wrong, it may prevent some busybody doing the same thing with some other poor person. Another case that I have requires to be dealt with, and that is the question of a soldier who is very badly wounded and receives a very small pension. Fortunately, ho was in the position of getting two local doctors to examine him, and give him a certificate, which was sent on to my hon. Friend with the result that an increased pension was given. The man thus demonstrated the medical board was entirely wrong in its conviction as to the amount of the pension which he should receive. When, however, his arrears were paid, much to the man's astonishment, the sick benefit which he had been drawing from his approved society was deducted from the pension. There, again, the Army had nothing to do with what the approved society had paid the man. One of the things which, I think, approved societies have a right to complain of is that a burden, that of war, was never contemplated in the actuarial valuations upon which the Acts were passed; yet the War Office are throwing a burden upon the approved societis which was never contemplated. It is unfair and unjust, because it is placing upon a section of the community a burden which ought to be borne by the whole.
There are many similar cases in which I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for the Chester district. My experience is that half the truth has not been told as to the amount of suffering that has resulted from the out-of-date methods of the War Office in dealing with this matter of pensions. That there has been improvement does not get rid of the difficulty, or of the right of Members of this House to criticise, and does not relieve those who have suffered as a result of neglect. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars is to be congratulated in having the question 1990 raised even on the narrower issue, be cause it gives an opportunity for placing before the House the wider question. I hope that some member of the Government may be able to give us some assurances upon these particular points that I have raised. Another point I think that requires to be dealt with is the case I have also sent to my hon. Friend—the case of a working man and his wife in my Constituency who made great sacrifices to send their son, a promising lad, to the university. He left his university course, enlisted, and was killed, I believe, at Neuve Chapelle. They are told that because there was no dependency there is no pension. That is a case which really needs dealing with. It is all very well to say that the Statutory Committee should deal with it. Something more is required. My hope is that the Government will, as a whole, demonstrate that they are inclined to deal more generously in the future than in the past with such cases. I join with all those who have spoken that we could not have anyone more sympathetically inclined than the Financial Secretary. Those in association with him, I think, require to be imbued with some of his sympathy. The Chelsea Commissioners, in particular, may have plenty of sympathy, but there must be a great many mistakes made by the Medical Board who advise them, because continuously I am getting complaints of men who earned good wages previously to enlistment, and now, unable to go back to their former employment, and finding great difficulty in getting light employment, have had to have the miserable pittance of a pension they have received supplemented by parish relief. That is a very great disgrace to us. It appears to me it would be much better if my hon. Friend would convey to the Cabinet the necessity of having a Committee of this House, or outside the House, for dealing with these cases—
The hon. Member is going a great deal beyond the terms of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackfriars. The Debate, in a case, of this sort, is strictly limited to the subject of the definitely urgent matter on which leave to move the Adjournment was granted.
§ Mr. SUTTON
I cannot agree altogether with the hon. Member for Hough-ton-le-Spring (Mr. Wing) when he says that these cases are getting much less in number. My own personal experience is that they are getting greater in number. They will become greater yet, because of the larger numbers of men that are now being discharged from the Army practically mained for life. I stated a few weeks ago that this state of things made it very difficult for those of us who have been doing some little recruiting, and persuading men to enlist in the Army. I, myself, have been met in my Constituency by persons putting to me the query: "Do you not think that the amount of the pensions that are being given to certain men who are now discharged from the Army is a shame and a disgrace?" Last week half-a-dozen people came to see me personally, and one man who has a wife and three children to keep, and who is still unable to work, but who has been discharged, has had his pension reduced to 7s. 9d. a week for five of them, and out of that amount he has a rent to pay of 5s. 3d. a week. He threatened to go into the workhouse on purpose to expose the whole thing, but I persuaded him not to. Yesterday I sent that case on to the Financial Secretary to the War Office. Here I should like to pay a tribute to the hon. Gentleman and say that whatever cases I have sent him he has always attended to very earnestly indeed. My own opinion is that there is not a sufficient staff to deal with these cases of pensions.
For the first time I went last week to Baker Street. I was treated very kindly there, and the case I went about was put in hand at once, and the man received all his arrears of pension. He has a wife and seven children, and yet he had to wait two or three weeks without anything at all. In his letter to me he stated that the War Office authorities must think discharged soldiers had large banking accounts. Another case I have is that of a man with a wife and two children. I sent the case yesterday to the hon. Gentleman. The man is practically paralysed, and, in my opinion—because I have had a long talk with him—will not be able to work again for many months to come. Yet they pensioned him off with 12s. 6d. a week to keep four of them and pay house rent as well. I think the Chelsea Commissioners, at least, are rather too anxious to get rid of that temporary £l a week. For four weeks, I believe, this man got the £l, and 1992 then it was reduced, and he had not been, I am informed, examined by the Medical Board. What is 12s. 6d, to keep four people and pay rent? I do hope, if these different Departments are short of staff, a larger staff will be put on, so that these people will not have to wait two or three weeks with nothing at all coming in. If these cases are small in number in comparison with the thousands of cases going on all right, yet if you have ninety-nine cases going on all right and one going wrong, that one is able to create a great deal of disturbance and difficulty in the district where it happens. I hope the hon. Gentleman—I believe he himself has done all that is possible—will at least see we get as little complaints as possible.
§ Mr. FINNEY
I should like to associate myself with what my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend have said in respect of the desirability of these cases being dealt with as early as possible. It is quite true to say that some of the cases that are reported to us are of a very heartrending character. We can scarcely find any sort of words to use in dealing with those cases. While my hon. Friend was speaking I was reminded about the case that has lately come to my attention of a man, with a wife and four children, who is in receipt of a pension or allowance of 5s. a week. That man does not understand it, and I am quite certain I do not understand why a man should have a pension so low. It cannot be regarded as satisfactory in any sense. It almost seems to me that we are getting a little bit short of money. We appear to have plenty of sympathy, and can express it fairly well. I admit that sympathy is very good, and all of us feel it more or less, but such cases as we have to meet with in our constituencies demand something more than sympathy. They should have some substantial allowance. I do not know whether I should be quite in order in referring to it, but I noticed that the seats here this afternoon where very full. There was geat excitement about votes for soldiers at the front, but what becomes of such demonstrations in the light of the empty seats here to-night, when we are trying to urge upon the attention of the Government the desirability of making substantial allowances to those who have risked everything in order to defend our interests and country at the front?
I should like to say, so far as the cases I have had to deal with are concerned, I 1993 have met with every courtesy and every consideration from the hon. Gentleman who has these cases in hand; but, at the same time, we should like to urge upon the attention of the Government the desirability of doing all that they possibly can, not only to reduce the delay, but also to increase the amounts of allowances in such cases as those to which I have referred. It is very evident that this will have a very discouraging effect upon the people in the localities where those cases occur. We are not out of the wood yet, and it is still necessary to keep up the feeling on a firm foundation that we are in earnest when we tell these people that if they come to the help of the country the country will see them through any difficulties they get into. In these circumstances I should like to associate myself with all that has been said before, and I hope these cases will be attended to.
§ Mr. KEATING
I should like to draw the attention of the War Office to a kind of case that has always been to me a mystery. I have several cases of the kind in my own Constituency, but I am not sure that I shall come within the narrow scope of the subject we are debating to-night, though I should like, if I may be allowed, to draw the attention of the Financial Secretary to the type of case I have in mind. It is this: You have a soldier who has been doing his duty at the front, and has been returned home either wounded or no longer fit to perform his duty at the front. He comes home to a little village, and he is informed in due course that he is not entitled to any kind of pension whatever, on the ground that the shock or injury his system has received was due, not to the duties of the soldier, but to something anterior to the time he enlisted in the Army.
§ Mr. KEATING
Then I will content myself with associating my humble voice with what has been said by the Labour Members on behalf of those who come within the scope of this Motion. I think it is a very serious thing that we have found it necessary to have to draw attention to these matters in the House of Commons. The men who risked their lives and who gave up their private opportunities even before Conscription came are entitled not only to a sympathetic but to 1994 an efficient system whereby they will not suffer neglect through the inefficiency of the staff employed by the Government dealing with these cases. It is a very serious matter to the women and the children, and I wish I had the silver tongue of Demosthenes to plead their cause. I hope we have succeeded in impressing the Financial Secretary and the members of the Government with the seriousness of this matter, and the importance of doing something immediately to remove these grievances.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. STEPHEN WALSH
I have thought for some little time that the Debate was assuming a breadth and comprehensiveness which could not very well be brought within the limits of the Motion upon which the Adjournment was granted. I do not think we can let this question stop at compliments to the Financial Secretary, but I am quite sure that, even when he has done his best, he will find himself utterly unable to keep pace with the enormous number of cases that must of necessity crowd upon him under the conditions which we know will obtain in the War in the near future. Even if he does all that ho can he will not be able to give real satisfaction. It is said that there ought to be £1 a week paid to these men until the pension is decided upon in the case of men with families. I wrote to the Army authorities at Woolwich some time ago, and I received an answer that, in the case I had submitted to them, it was not right that the man should go without any money at all. He is a man who was discharged from the Army after a month's furlough, during which time his case was to be considered, and he was discharged without a halfpenny and his family were left without any money at all. Later I got a reply saying that the man was not entitled to £1 a week. The authorities at Woolwich told me that they would do their best to get this man £1 a week until his pension is determined. I have since got a statement from the authorities stating that this man is entitled to 10s. a week, and they sent him a money order for two week's pay. That is a typical case. This is the case of a man who enlisted a long time ago. This point, I think, comes within the terms of the Adjournment Motion. I am convinced that however much we lavish compliments upon the Financial Secretary, not only is his staff insufficient, but the whole system has absolutely broken down. Unless we have a definite system of co-ordination we may simply whistle for 1995 the results to which the wounded are entitled. If we could only stop there it would be bad enough, but it is as true as hon. Members are in this House that already there is growing up a feeling that will sweep away all this complicated mechanism. Months ago I raised similar points in this House. If I have written one letter to the War Office and the other, organisations with which it is almost impossible for human intelligence to cope. I have written a couple of hundred letters I have letters throe months old that have never yet received an answer. What is true in my case is true in the case of a large majority of the. Members of this House. Under these circumstances, what is the good of keeping up the pretence that the Financial Secretary himself will be able to cope with the tremendous influx of work that must inevitably accompany the conditions at the front to-day. I think this Debate will undoubtedly do good, but we really must keep in our minds the promises we made at the beginning of the War. The whole thing will have to be reorganised under one definite organisation, and then Members of the House of Commons will know to whom they have to apply. The disabled soldier himself will also know to whom he has to go, and then we will have simplicity where at the present moment there is the most absurd complication. I am sure we shall be ultimately driven to that.
I know there is no person who has worked so hard as the Financial Secretary, but the labours that will devolve upon him are beyond the power of any single man to cope with, and the hearts of hon. Members are almost broken in the struggle to try and get something like decent justice done to the people who have the very first claim upon the finances of the nation. If the hon. Gentleman will consider those views I am quite sure he will find that they are the only views which will give us success. I am sure he docs not want to keep up an absurd or complicated mechanism. I could reel off quite half a dozen cases in regard to the different authorities where these men have been bandied about from pillar to post. At the War Office you may be told that the allowance is so-and-so, but you must see the Statutory Committee or the Chelsea Commissioners, and in no single case will you get satisfaction. All the time in the big centres of population feelings of 1996 disaffection are springing up. We have told them that this is the greatest nation on earth, as we believe it is, and that this is a nation for which they ought to be willing to lay down their lives and incur the greatest peril that can face mankind, and yet we are fobbing them off in this way. If the Debate has the one effect of helping to do away with the cumbersome and numerous authorities that at present exist, this Debate will not have been in vain.
Mr. MONTAGUE BARLOW
I can heartily endorse almost every word that has been said by the least speaker. I do not think that the more or less conflicting pension authorities which we have in this country have the least conception of the storm of indignation which is rising on this subject. I ventured to indicate this in the Motion for the reduction of the salary of the Vice-Chairman of the Statutory Committee in a very recent Debate, and the letters which I have received since only confirm me in the opinion that I then expressed. What is the reason of it? After all, those of us who allege that this feeling exists are bound to prove the case that we put forward. First of all, there is the great delay in securing the proper pension on the part of the various pension authorities, and that in itself is due to the fact that the pension authorities are so various and there is no proper co-ordination. I do not want to fling unnecessary or superfluous terms at Chelsea, but clearly this is what has happened: You had there an organisation managed by certain officials who were perfectly capable of coping with things under ordinary circumstances. Then suddenly you had to flood that organisation with an enormous number of cases, and you had to construct a great and new business. You have done it, and you have added building to building and clerk to clerk; but you have not got new brains in at the top of the business. If you were going to construct a new department of your business, it would be no use having a new clerk or getting a new room. You would have to get one strong, capable man to manage the department. That is what you have got to do in this business. You have got to see that the brains at the top are right, and then all the other things may be added to the organisation.
I venture to make an appeal very much in the terms of the last speaker. I am sure that the Government will be forced 1997 to do it sooner or later, and they had better do it sooner. Let them lay their plans now for one Minister of Pensions under one roof dealing with the whole matter both for the Army and the Navy. Let them have one unified plan, so that we may know where we are, and one office to which all applications may be sent. Let them have one roof under which all the allied voluntary societies may find shelter. Then, and only then, will they be at the beginning of a satisfactory solution of this great question. It is not a difficulty of twenty-four hours, it is not a difficulty of to-day or to-morrow; it is a difficulty which will be with us for many years, and we had better begin now and put our house in order, although it may involve a great deal more labour for the Financial Secretary to the War Office. I should like to pay my tribute of thanks and satisfaction to him for the kindness which he has extended to me, but that is not the point; the real point is the organisation. We are under great obligations to our constituents. One gets piteous letters from those interested, and cases of much gravity arise, and although one does get relief when he writes, he ought not to have to write those letters. The machine ought to work right, but it will not work right until there is more co-ordination on ordinary business lines.
§ Mr. BOWERMAN
Many compliments have been showered upon the hon. Member on the Treasury Bench, and I want to add another. I want to congratulate him upon the fact that he is prepared to assert himself in his own Department rather than merely be the mouthpiece of the officials in the office. It is rather disappointing, after his very satisfactory statement of a few weeks ago in regard to the payment of those two sums of 10s. and £1, to find that this great delay has taken place and that so much dissatisfaction has arisen. He has told the House that he has been using a pair of scissors to cut the red-tape, and I hope he will continue that process and that we may have the satisfaction of his hopes being carried into effect very rapidly.
§ Mr. BARNES
The Financial Secretary will be thinking that it is well for him to be wary when all men speak well of him. I am not going to add to the compliments paid to him for that reason. I quite agree that he has his difficulties I paid particular attention to what he said about the antiquated formalities of 1998 which he is a victim in connection with payments to a soldier after his discharge. I quite see that there are difficulties, but I do not see why those difficulties should not be overcome in regard to the separation allowance. Surely they are not so acute there. I hope the hon. Gentleman will keep that in mind and see, if he cannot continue the soldier's pay, to continue the allowance to the wife.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that he is not entitled to address the House a second time. I thought that he was rising to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Mr. BARNES
I was, but I thought that I was entitled to say a word or two with regard to what has happened, but, if not, I will simply content myself by saying that, having regard to the sympathetic reply of the hon. Gentleman and the assurance that we have had that he will have his system in operation within a week—and I hope he may very soon clear off the arrears—I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.