§ Message received to attend the Lords Commissioners.
§ The House went, and, having returned,
§ Mr. SPEAKER reported the Royal Assent to—
- 1. Military Service Act, 1916 (Session 2).
- 2. Colonial Bank Act, 1916.
- 3. Swansea Harbour Act, 1916.
- 4. City of Dublin Steam Packet Company's Act, 1916.
- 5. Cardiff Railway Act, 1916.
§ 6. An Act for the restitution in blood of the heirs of the late Reginald Gervase Alexander so far as relates to the Honour and Dignity of the Barony of Cobham.
§ Mr. WALSH rose—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
A very long question. It contained two or three sentences. I daresay the House will give the hon. Member permission to speak.
The points I wish to bring before the attention of the hon. Gentleman are really points which I brought before his attention about three months 2346 ago, and I do not think he himself is in any way directly responsible for the matters about which we now make complaint. In fact, one of the greatest difficulties is the extremely good-tempered and very generous way in which he treats these questions. It makes it extremely difficult when we know that behind him there are Departmental officers who are not at all construing the administration of these allowances in anything like the spirit that he displays in this House. I brought up, three months ago, the fact that when we were endeavouring to rally the fighting strength of the nation to the Army we pointed out, in circulars issued from the War Office, that the dependants of the soldiers would be provided for, and that, not only would this apply to the case of a wife or a father or a mother, but it would apply in those cases where a sister or a brother or other dependant had been the recipient of support at the expense of the soldier who had joined the Colours. That particular circular was sent out on 11th November, 1914, and for a long time the spirit of that circular was nobly carried out, and there are to-day hundreds of thousands of dependants in that category who are receiving payment from War Office funds. But within the last eight or nine months there can be no doubt at all that quite a change has taken place in the spirit of the administration, and exactly the same kind of people are being refused any allowance at all. A young man makes an allotment in favour, say, of his sister, who has been entirely dependent upon the funds coming into the general household. She herself is wholly unable to earn her living. I have cases, which I have sent to the right hon Gentleman, where the woman is unable to work at all. The interpretation placed upon these by the regimental paymasters and supported from Whitehall, is that unless the payment was made for the personal benefit of the particular dependant, no dependancy allowance can be granted. That is a hopelessly unfair interpretation of the circular, and it is a hopelessly strained interpretation of the conditions that were presented to the people at the beginning. I have case after case that I have written to the right hon. Gentleman himself about, and case after case that I have written to the regimental paymasters about, and in every case these poor people, who were supported partly by the funds of the father and partly from the funds of the son and brother, although they are 2347 receiving an allotment on their brother, are cut out of all dependancy allowance, and whereas we are told from the very beginning that the object of these allowances was to keep the household in a state of comfort similar to that which existed before the father and the son enlisted, now they are at a very much lower standard of comfort. Indeed, in many homes penury and something very akin to starvation prevail.
I speak of that which I know, and this helps to lower and indeed to kill something of the fighting spirit of the people. When a young soldier comes back to his home that he did so much to protect and to support before he went into the Army, and sees the scale of living distinctly lowered, how can he go back with anything like the fighting spirit that he went at the first? The whole thing circulates, and the temperature of the whole countryside goes down because of this treatment of those to whom we ought to be most generous I gave the hon. Gentleman a particular case three months ago. I could give a hundred, but I gave him one, and he promised me, in correspondence, that if I would give him the definite details of that case he would see that it was attended to, but he wrote me a letter saying that the arrangements or regulations of the War Office prevented any further payment. I will state the case. All the male members of the family of fighting age went to the War. The father was earning 36s. a week, the two sons were earning about 30s. a week each, and altogether there was about £4 16s. coming into that family. The three of them—three of the best-known men in the district, living within a mile of my own home—went to the War at the very beginning. The father made an allotment, and a proper allowance was paid upon it. The second son made an allotment in favour of his sister, a woman of twenty-one years of age. She never at the most earned more than 10s. a week. She is working in a factory when she works at all, but the cotton industry was in a most depressed condition, and at the best she could never keep herself, and, of course, the two sons pooled their money and a dependancy allowance was actually granted. The pension officer and the Pension Committee inquired into the case. They said it was a proper case, and they reported it to the regimental paymaster, who, however, refused to pay on the 2348 ground that the money paid by John was not paid for the personal benefit of this woman. To say that money shall be paid for the personal benefit of any particular member of the household is to go dead against the working arrangement of working class families.
We want the right hon. Gentleman to bring into the departmental affairs of the War Office something of the generous spirit that he himself shows, very properly, in the House—we know perfectly well that he feels it, but we would really like him to put something of his own spirit into those folks who are simply performing their duties in an ordinary departmental and routine way. After all, that is really what we desire. Take the case of the apprentice. I have in my locker in this House the cases of twenty apprentices at the very least. In one case, from Rochdale, the father had paid a bounty of £60 so that his lad could be trained in his craft. The young fellow very properly entered the Army almost as soon as the War broke out. It may be and has been said that there is no pre-war dependancy. Is that the spirit in which we should treat him? The young man suffers a great loss, and the family suffers a great loss, and we are told by the hon. Gentleman—he can hardly help himself, one must admit—that we must wait until the Statutory Committee has made its arrangements, and some payments have been made. This took place in the middle of 1914, and not a single halfpenny has been paid from then until now. Surely we are entitled to say that some intermediate steps should be taken, and that the local committees to be formed in connection with the Statutory Committee might be authorised to take special cases of this kind into consideration, and to give assistance accordingly. Such assistance could be debited against the payments later to be made. These families in many cases are in a serious state. I will not say they are in a state of destitution, because they have not reached that stage, but they are in a state very seriously lower than the standard of comfort that existed before the War broke out.
There is another point. We were told at the beginning of the War, by a circular issued in November, 1914, that if a soldier made his allotment, that allotment would automatically carry a dependancy allowance subject to dependancy on the part of the recipient being proved. We are told now that unless the person nominates 2349 the recipient within four weeks that no allowance will be made at all. I have case after case which I have sent to the War Office where they are refusing altogether to give dependancy allowances because, forsooth, four weeks have elapsed. Is that generosity? The hon. Gentleman appealed to the House, and said he thought that, taking a broad view of the whole position, the War Office treated these matters generously. That is a rigid, strained, and unfair interpretation. A young soldier joins the Army. He is told he must make an allotment, and he does so. He is drilling in the early morning, all the day, and late at night. He has taken up the full performance of his military duties, yet if by any chance the correspondence is not properly attended to, even where the correspondence has taken place—and there is case after case where there is proof that no letter has been sent from the regimental authorities—how can the burden be placed upon the people at home or upon the soldier himself to prove that he has properly attended to the correspondence? If he has not properly attended to it, there is no dependancy allowance for the people at home. Where the fact is genuinely proved that there was dependancy, surely the fact that the man makes an allotment and the fact that these people were depending upon him before he joined the Army should be taken into consideration, and the payments should be made. It is said that the Chelsea Commissioners deal generously with these matters. In my writing to the Chelsea Commissioners on behalf of men who have come into my home disabled and ill I have not been able, except in one instance, to get them to acknowledge any case. Whether that is generous treatment or not I am not prepared to say.
There is another important point. In the fixing of the four-fifths allowance, why should a discrimination be made between a case of acceleration and a case of causation. I understood the hon. Gentleman to say there were two categories—one where the case was caused by military service, and the other where it was accelerated by military service. What has the State done under the Workmen's Compensation Act? It is important to note that, because, after all, we as a State employ these men. The State laid it down, in 1897, that when an employer of labour employed a person for profit, if that person died and it was found as a fact that, although he was suffering from a bad state 2350 of health, a particular accident accelerated his death, full compensation was to be paid. The moment you begin to try to discriminate between cases of that character you will get into endless trouble. You will not only have tremendous trouble at this end, but you will inflict an awful sense of injustice upon the family, the children, the widow, and others, in the case where you are giving a lesser amount because you say he was suffering from a particular complaint at the first, and that the military service only accelerated his death. These people will feel a keen sense of injustice and hardship, because their breadwinner will have departed, and they will not be content with the niceties of acceleration or of first causation that you will inquire into at this end. The proper thing to do—and I am sure the nation is in the mood to do it—is to follow the example the State set in 1897, which was developed in 1906, and where as a fact the death was either accelerated or caused by military service in which the State has employed the man, make no discrimination, but treat everybody alike. I think you will find that that is the proper way in which business of this kind should be carried out.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
I desire to raise two points. The first I wish to address to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board, and I think he will agree that it is a matter of some importance. As he knows, at present the system under which separation allowances are augmented, or under which they are paid in advance, when the scheme has not gone through properly, is by payment through the Prince of Wales' Fund. That system of payment is to come to an end at the end of June, and the work is to be taken up under the new Committees formed in connection with the Naval and Military War Pensions Act. I should like an assurance that these Committees are ready in every district in the country to undertake that work. I should be very glad if the right hon. Gentleman could give me that assurance, because I am quite sure everybody will agree that if there is any hiatus during which these people cannot get payment, if the Prince of Wales' Fund has ceased to make these payments, and if the new body is not ready to make these payments, very grave injustice and wrong will be done. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman can tell me in what position the various schemes are. I assume that most of the County Council's first schemes are through. He asked the 2351 County Council to defer making schemes relating to setting up district sub-committees, because that is to be done by supplementary schemes. What I would like an assurance about is that all these supplementary schemes are in hand, and that we can rely upon them being ready by the 30th of June. If he is unable to give us that assurance I trust he will see that some arrangement is made through the Prince of Wales' Fund and the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association that these allowances are continued until new machinery is set up.
The other point I wish to address to the Financial Secretary to the War Office, and it is in reference to the action of the Chelsea Commissioners when application is made for pensions in the case of men whose illness is held not to be directly traceable to Army service but accelerated by Army service. The Financial Secretary stated, in answer to the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), that if all his past speeches have not convinced the House as to the generosity of the action of the Chelsea Commissioners, he was afraid he could not do so in his speech to-day. It was only on the last occasion when this item was debated here that we had an assurance that pensions would be paid in cases where illness was accelerated by Army service and not directly due to it. I do not carry my complaint to the full length that the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh) carried it. I am not complaining against that discrimination, although there is a great deal in what he says. The grievance is much stronger than the grievance he put. We had a definite assurance in this House that in these cases, while the Chelsea Commissioners were not prepared to pay the full pension, they would pay four-fifths in cases of acceleration. In the case of complete disability, the pension is 25s. for a man whose disease can be directly attributed to his Army service, and in a case of acceleration it should be £1 a week. Case after case could be given where they are getting only 8d. a day or 5s. a week, and where the men are unable to earn a single penny. I believe we are entitled to a much fuller explanation than has been given, how it is that the Chelsea Commissioners are not carrying out the promise that was given in this House. Apparently they are not doing so. Of course we must leave to their medical advisers the decision whether a man is only partially disabled, and in that 2352 case they must decide what pension should be given, but where there is complete disability, I think we are entitled to an explanation why £1 a week is not paid, instead of these small sums of 5s. a week or 8d. a day. If we can have an assurance on these two points, I am sure there would be great satisfaction not only in this. House, but in the country.
§ Mr. SAMUEL SAMUEL
I notice that in this Bill there is provision for the issue of Treasury Bills. There is great anxiety in the commercial world on this matter. We have the gigantic sum of a floating debt amounting to £700,000,000 at the present time in Treasury bills, which have been issued in twelve months, and which are falling due now almost every day. The Government takes powers by this Bill to issue a further sum of £300,000,000, making, if they succeed, a gross floating debt—a liability which they may be called upon from day to day to meet—of the vast sum of £1,000,000,000. We knew perfectly well, or at any rate business men knew perfectly well, twelve months ago, that an enormous amount of money would be required for the conduct of the War. At the beginning of the War we understood that it was necessary to have a certain amount of Treasury Bills in circulation. The original use of Treasury Bills was to enable the Government to tide over temporarily the collection of taxes, and, where necessary, where the taxes were not sufficient, to issue loans. It was never intended that such vast amounts as £1,000,000,000 of Treasury Bills should be issued to pay for the conduct of the War. I am sure that the Treasury themselves do not realise what the meaning of this is. They do not realise what they have hanging over their heads, which they may be called upon to meet at any moment if any accident were to happen.
They commenced the War by borrowing on Treasury Bills at 3½ per cent. The first Loan was issued at 3½ per cent. Without any apparent reason the rate for Treasury Bills was increased to 4½ per cent. and, as they were selling Treasury Bills over the counter at that rate, they had to issue their second Loan at 4½ per cent. We have become alarmed in the City and in other financial centres in the country because, without any warning to the market, the Treasury allowed the bankers and the brokers in the money market to go to the Bank of England and buy the Treasury Bills at 4½ per cent., and in the afternoon the market found suddenly 2353 that, without any excuse, the Treasury had put up the rate for the bills to 4¾ per cent., inflicting a heavy loss on the banks and the money market. Within a week, without any reason and without any excuse, the money was put up by the Treasury from 4¾ per cent. to 5 per cent. There was an enormous floating surplus of money on the market, and we could only come to the conclusion that the Government were gambling in money. We found that they were offering their Exchequer Bills at 5 per cent., and that everything was being done to take into the Bank of England every available centime that could be collected in our money market. We found also that agents of the Government were actually going into the joint stock banks and telling them not to lend their money on the market below 4 per cent. We found agents of the Government going round the market and telling the bill brokers that if they dared to discount bills under 5 per cent., they would have the bank rate put up on them to 6 per cent.
The Government must have known that they required some thousands of millions of borrowing on the market, and we were astonished and alarmed to find that they themselves, knowing their requirements, were actually doing everything they could to make the taxpayer pay more than was absolutely necessary for the financing of this war. I consider that the manner in which the financial situation has been handled will cost the country millions of money, because by this temporary borrowing, by allowing this accumulation of Treasury Bills to come into existence, it would be utterly impossible for the Government at the present time to contract a loan, at any rate under the rate at which they are prepared to sell the Treasury Bills over the counter. We know perfectly well that you can go with your money to-day and you can buy bills just issued. You can buy Exchequer Bonds for 1920 and 1921 to pay you 5 per cent. You can buy Treasury Bills to pay you 5 per cent. Do the Government expect that they will be able to induce the public to subscribe to a loan for ten or twenty years below the rate at which they can invest their money, the rate which has been fixed by the Government themselves on the value of the money in the market? We have seen the way in which the finance has been handled, and the immense—we can only call it—speculation in that Department. We know per- 2354 fectly well that we are the wealthiest country in the world, and if the Government had been able to make up their mind, or what they were pleased to call their mind, at the beginning of the War, and as it went on to raise the funds necessary and to utilise the issue of Treasury Bills to tide them over from time to time instead of seeing the rate of money at the present time 5 per cent. and over, you would have seen an enormous plethora of money in the market, and the Government would have had no difficulty at all in borrowing at least at the rate at which they issued their last Loan.
We know perfectly well that so long as you can buy these Treasury Bills it is absolutely hopeless for the Government to attempt to issue a Loan under 5 per cent. If the Government were to utilise these Treasury Bills for the purposes of temporary accommodation you would have had such a plethora on the money market that, instead of the old 4½ per cent. Loan being as it is at a discount of 95, you would have had that money going into those bonds which are coming on the market daily, and you would have had the value maintained, which they are fully worth, at par value. I feel absolutely certain that the condition if taken in time can be altered to the benefit of the taxpayer in this country, but I feel absolutely certain that if this policy of drift is allowed to continue, it means disaster to the finances of this country. The Government do not realise what they are doing. It is absolutely certain that if they were to examine from every possible point of view the manner in which they are utilising the strength of the financial position of this country they would be appalled if they looked to the future consequences of their action. I hope that before it is too late they will at least make up their minds and decide positively how they are going to carry on the finances of this War so that we shall come out successfully, and not be compelled, as we heard that we shall have to do, to issue forced Loans. There is no necessity for forced Loans. Everybody is absolutely convinced of the necessity of carrying on the War to the end, and providing all the money that is necessary, but it is necessary for the Government to do something, so as not to compel the taxpayers to have to pay in the future millions a year more than is necessary.
§ Mr. JONATHAN SAMUEL
I would like to bring the House back to the point 2355 raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge). I think that the country is indebted to him for his persistence in raising these points with regard to the pensions to the disabled soldiers and sailors. I did not hear the reply of the Financial Secretary, but I am told that it was not at all satisfactory, and that no promise of reform was made by him for the future. Complaints with regard to separation allowances have been made by several speakers. My experience is that there is a vast improvement in the prompt payment of separation allowances to the parties, because since the man who is enlisting makes his declaration on the day that he does enlist whether or not he is prepared to make an allotment to his parents, or sisters, or his wife, there is a vast improvement, and so far as I can learn we are getting very few complaints now as to the payment of separation allowance. But with regard to pensions, there is a vast number of complaints coming in, and I would like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board (Mr. Hayes Fisher) when we may expect the reform promised by the Chancellor of Exchequer last year that there was to be a Bill brought in this year to establish one Pensions Committee to deal with the whole question, so that the Chelsea Commissioners and the Greenwich Hospital should all be merged in one vast Pensions Committee. We have not heard anything about that this year. It seems to me that there is plenty of time. The Bill, I am certain, would not be opposed in this House, and it is the duty of the Government to carry out the promise which they made last year.
On 30th January, 1915, we had the scale published with regard to pensions: Widows without children 10s. and 12s. 6d. Widows with two children 18s. 6d., with three children 20s. 6d., with four children 22s. 6d. Motherless children 5s. each. Disablement benefit went up to 25s. for total disablement. What we find is that this scale is reviewed by the Chelsea Commissioners, and reviewed disadvantageously to the man who is entitled to the pension. I am quite certain that, so far as the Chelsea Commissioners are concerned, looking at this question from the point of view of the old system which was in vogue before these improvements in the scale of pensions were brought into being, it is most essential that the Government 2356 should establish one central body to deal with the question in a more humane spirit, so that the conservatism, if I may use the term, of these Commissioners should be dispensed with. Therefore, I hope that we may hear something from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board, who seems to me to take charge of the whole of this question as to the intentions of the Government in dealing with this point. Up till last year, when he sat on the other side of the House, he was one of the men who pleaded for the reform which I am demanding now. He said that we should have one Board—I believe that he said that in his evidence before the Pensions Committee—to deal with this whole question, but we are not obtaining that reform, and I think that he should impress upon the Government the necessity of carrying it into effect.
There is another question. Personally, I was very much displeased with this new scheme, that was more or less debated last night upon the Report stage, of sending Commissioners round the country to award these supplementary grants for rent, insurance premiums, and other things to the men who go to the front. I am quite certain that what we are doing is absolutely illegal. There is no statutory power for the creation of this body of Commissioners. There is nothing in any Act of Parliament to entitle these Commissioners to make these recommendations. Last year we had passed through this House a very important Act of Parliament called the Naval and Military War Pensions Act. Section 3 of that Act, on the recommendation of the Pensions Committee, placed upon the new Statutory Committee the power of paying supplementary grants where the separation allowances were inadequate. In my opinion the duty of finding out what these men are entitled to in the way of supplementary grants is now devolved upon the Statutory Committee, and also upon the local committees, who can work through the Statutory Committee. But, instead of that, the Government, or the right hon. Gentleman, has created a new Committee without any statutory powers, and he has actually created Commissioners, who are lawyers or barristers, and who are to go round the country to ascertain to what these men are entitled. I disagree entirely with what the right hon. Gentleman said last night, and I think it 2357 was a reflection upon the public spirit and action of the men who form our local committees. I have taken part in some of those local committees, and I may tell the right hon. Gentleman in regard, that the money they have distributed from the Prince of Wales' Fund for distress has been very carefully administered. In the county of Durham committees were formed, and these committees have investigated every case most carefully, and have distributed the money in a most careful manner. I say it is a reflection upon these men to say, when they have had the power of investigating "what a man is entitled to under this new scheme up to £2 a week, that they would give money where they were not entitled to give it.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
As my hon. Friend reminds me, these local committees are familiar with the districts, and possess a knowledge of its requirements and of the people who live there, which barristers who are not local men, cannot have. Did not the Government ask the Statutory Committee to work this scheme; did it not come before the Statutory Committee, and did not that Committee consider it and decline to work out this new scheme of supplementary grants to the married men? I say it is their duty to work it out, and no other body should work it out. I say, further, that the new scheme is practically unworkable for the reason that you send one Commissioner down to, say, for example, the county of Durham, where I live, and where we have something like twenty populous districts. How is one barrister going to deal with thousands of applications which may be made in that county? Where is he going to sit? Is he going to sit in Durham, the capital of the county, and are men living sixty miles away from that capital city to travel that distance to place their cases before this barrister? The whole thing is impracticable and unworkable. What you want is the appointment of local committees who would investigate every case. In each case they would know the man, would know his earnings and position, and they could report to the Statutory Committee what the man was entitled to. I say, advisedly, that there is not even a Member of Parliament, let alone the poor men who are enlisting, who could answer the questions contained in these Regulations. Why, the Income Tax return is nothing to it. As my hon. Friend says, that is child's play compared 2358 with this. Let us examine this schedule. A man has to state in detail his income, his expenditure, and his future prospects if he goes to the War. There is not a single man who can answer these questions. I contend that if I put this form to my right hon. Friend himself he would not be able to fill it up accurately. Yet the man who enlists is expected to fill up this paper, though he may know nothing about the trade of the district and may be unable to say what his prospects were. I repeat that the scheme is unworkable, and I am certain that it will break down, whatever may be the instructions.
If this scheme is to go on, if it is to be made workable, then you propose to pay the money every quarter. It has been shown from practical experience in the past that to pay money in lump sums is a very dangerous practice, and the Government has found it to be essential and imperative that they must pay money weekly, and now all supplementary grants and all allowances are paid weekly; yet it is now proposed to pay this money in the form of a grant every quarter. There may be a very considerable accumulation of money, perhaps from £20 to £30 in some instances, to be paid out at the end of the quarter. I would point out that under paragraph 11 there is nothing definite as to how the money is to be paid. Is it to be paid through some association, or through these local committees, or through the Post Office? There is no indication, but it is left to this Committee, which is self-appointed, and which is without any statutory power, to decide the manner in which this money is to be paid in future. That is in itself totally irregular, because we are now paying this money through the Post Office; we are paying separation allowances through the Post Office, and supplementary grants are paid through the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association out of the Prince of Wales' Fund. Let me point out what would take place. I believe something like £3,000,000 has been spent in the way of supplementary grants out of the Prince of Wales' Fund through the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association. That comes to an end on the 30th June. The local committees then take it over. These committees will not distribute the money out of the Prince of Wales' Fund in future; they will distribute the money out of the £1,000,000 voted by this House and handed over to the Statutory Committee, who will pay it through the local 2359 committees. What would be the position? The position will be that the local committees will be paying these supplementary grants from 6d. per week up to 8s. per week in certain cases, and you will have this other committee, working through the barristers, that may pay sums up to £2 a week. They will be paying out Parliamentary money also, that is, the money voted by Parliament for this scheme. I say that it is a waste of energy; it is overlapping, and the whole thing ought to be concentrated, as we understood it was going to be concentrated, in one central committee, working through local committees. Unless we can get that scheme into operation, unless we can get the whole of the power of distributing this money in the hands of one central body, permeating the whole country through local committees, established by our public authorities, there will never be satisfaction in this country. Some of us in this House are determined that we shall fight this question until we bring all these schemes into one harmonious body, so that no person shall have an advantage over another in the distribution of this money.
I quite agree with the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Raffan), who asked for the formation of local committees. Personally, I am not satisfied with the progress made. I know my right hon. Friend will say that they are doing their best, and that they are working very hard. I do not dispute it. But there is a want of practical knowledge on that committee; I am certain there is, and I will give an illustration, with which I think my hon. Friend will agree, as a member of a county council. This does not apply to borough councils in regard to the formation of committees, because borough councils are self-contained—each forms one committee. Instructions have already been sent out to county councils. I have seen in my own county council a circular containing instructions asking the county council to form a scheme under the new Act not to contain sub-committees or district committees. How are you going to get all of these committees into working operation by the end of June if you stop the county councils from doing it? How can a county council go about the county distributing supplementary grants out of the million pounds at the end of June, or the 1st of July, unless these committees are formed? The Statutory Committee, so far as I can understand, cannot be composed of prac- 2360 tical men, at least on the Sub-committee who have the drafting of these scheme; otherwise, they would not have stopped the county councils from forming these committees. It is impossible for these committees to be brought into existence by the 1st July, to be ready to distribute this money, as they could have been, if this Committee had worked in the spirit in which they ought to have worked is carrying this Act into operation. And we shall find ourselves in this position on the 1st July, that the Prince of Wales' Fund will stop their grants to the soldiers and sailors, and unless the Government can carry on some organisation, quite apart from these local committees, there will be no committees throughout the country—save the borough councils—that are prepared to make these grants to the intended recipients as they have been made in the past. That would be a great disaster, and would cause great dissatisfaction.
There is another point about which I am bound to say I am alarmed—a matter which is absolutely illegal. I have seen Circular 4, not Form 4, but Circular 4; indeed, all these dangerous circulars or forms are called either Circular 4, or Form 4, and this Circular 4 is not only a very dangerous one, but absolutely illegal. I say that advisedly. You have no right to ask the local committee to distribute this money through another organisation. The duty is devolved upon these local committees; it is one of their functions. Clause 4, paragraph (e), enacts that they are appointed to distribute any supplementary grants made by the Statutory Committee, the distribution of which has been delegated to the local committee by the Statutory Committee. I say there is no power under the Act to delegate any of that power to an outside body. When the Bill came down from the Lords there was a Clause carried there giving power-to the local authorities to hand money over to outside bodies, but it was withdrawn in this House. They are now actually asking these local committees to nominate so many of their members to this outside body. I say that the Statutory Committee is going outside of its powers absolutely, and if this thing is going on we are going to cause some trouble and try and prevent it. In the intervening time between completing the work of the committees these organisations must continue to distribute the money where they exist. It is the duty 2361 of the Statutory Committee to work night and day, and if they will instruct the local authorities and ask them to set up those committees and accelerate the speed, then I am quite certain that you will get all those local authorities keen to respond to that appeal. Circulars are going out about the appointment of the district committees, but if they are not appointed you cannot have this money distributed by the county council. I am not making this speech in any adverse spirit. I have felt it my duty to sound an alarm, because this House passed the Act unanimously. It came with the recommendation of the Pensions Committee, which was composed of the Colonial Secretary, the Secretary of State for India, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Minister of Munitions and others, that this money should be distributed through the Statutory Committee and then through these local committees. I say it is the duty of the Statutory Committee to carry out the Act in the spirit in which it was passed through the House, and not to tamper with the main principles upon which it was passed.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Hayes Fisher)
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken told us that he sounded an alarm. Every sentence of his speech was an alarm, and almost every sentence of his speech accused either the Government, or some member of the Government, of gross illegality. The scheme which has just been set on foot to alleviate the serious hardships which might ensue in calling up men for military service who are faced with civil liabilities, and to relieve them to the extent of as much as £104 per year, that, according to the hon. Gentleman, is illegal.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I say that the way you are doing it is illegal. You should do it through the Statutory Committee.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
That is the way the Government have instructed it to be done, and if the hon. Gentleman thinks it is illegal he had better put that question to the Attorney-General. When the hon. Gentleman calls this Committee a self-constituted Committee, of which I am Chairman, I may tell him that I am appointed as Chairman by the Prime Minister, and that the Committee is not appointed by me, but appointed by the Government. I am charged with the very 2362 onerous duties, very onerous, which require a great deal of my time, to carry out this scheme, which is not a scheme of mine or of the Committee, but a Cabinet scheme, and which at all events finds favour with the Prime Minister and with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, inasmuch as he is expecting to have to find millions of money with which to finance the scheme. The hon. Gentleman says it is impracticable and unworkable. We will see about that. I am perfectly certain of this: my horse will canter over the course much quicker than any horse he will ever start. That money is much more likely to reach the recipients of these funds by the process we are setting up than by any process which the hon. Gentleman thinks of setting up. We argued this case last night, and had quite a long debate upon it. I will only refer to one of the arguments. The hon. Gentleman still sticks to it that the local tribunals would be the proper people.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I said the local committees, not the local tribunals—the local committees appointed under the Naval and Military Pensions Act.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
Those local committees to which the hon. Gentleman wants to give the administration do not exist, and are not likely to exist until the end of next month. I thought it was of supreme importance that this relief should be given at once, without delay, yet the hon. Gentleman says leave it to the local committees who, some day or another, are to come into existence. It was absolutely necessary to set up machinery which would revolve rapidly, turn out this money rapidly, and transfer it rapidly to the pockets of those who are worthy applicants for such sums of money as are to be given. No Chancellor of the Exchequer could possibly consent that millions of money should be given out to over 2,000 tribunals all over the country unless he had at least some representative on those tribunals. Therefore, we had to devise some other machinery, and we have devised these Commissioner Barristers. If it be found that sixty or eighty of them are not enough, we will appoint sixty or eighty more. We will double or treble, or even quadruple, the machinery sooner than have any serious delay or breakdown in the giving of this money where it is so much needed to meet extra rents, rates, premiums on policies, and matters of that kind.
2363 The hon. Gentleman made a very violent attack upon the Statutory Body, and said that that Committee acted illegally in almost every action. I should advise him to put a question about that to the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General as to whether or not the Statutory Body is acting illegally. I am one of the culprits. I cannot be expected to take that view of the case, or to put my head into the noose which the hon. Gentleman prepares. I should be anxious to see him put the question down for Tuesday next, or as early a day as possible. I am quite certain he will get the answer that again he is living in a world of scares and alarms. He is really unnecessarily troubling himself about all these matters where not an act of illegality has been committed. Some of the acts may not have been wise, according to him, but they are certainly not illegal. So far as the Statutory Committee is concerned there has been undoubtedly more delay than was anticipated in setting up these local committees. Why? First of all, the Act ordains that the Statutory Committee must lay down model schemes to the county councils. The county councils say very naturally, "If you insist that we must have one-fifth labour and one-fifth women in the scheme, we want to have something to say to it." Some county councils say, "We cannot find labour representatives, and will you modify your scheme in this direction or in that?" It is very seldom they meet. You begin to see what difficulties there are. The delay has not been altogether at our hands. We have worked hard morning, noon, and night, but there will be delay, particularly as regards the schemes of county councils. They do have difficulties in the counties of finding one-fifth of the representatives of organised labour. In the boroughs it is not so, and there most of the schemes have been agreed to. Now they have got to choose the personnel and to find out the proper persons who will be designated as persons under the scheme. All that has got to be done. We had a Statutory Committee meeting to-day, and undoubtedly many of those local committees will not have been formed by the 30th June.
The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Raffan) asked me, very properly, where those local committees have not been formed on the 30th June, what machinery will carry on the grants which are now 2364 given, and the advances which are made in the way of extra rent allowances and all kinds of emergency allowances? Will those, asked the hon. Member, come to an end, or will you set up some machinery by which all those grants shall continue to be made on the present scale? The Statutory Committee have come to the conclusion that they must ask the present organisation to carry on the work where the local committees cannot come upon the ground in time. We issued a special circular to all the borough councils and county councils asking them whether they will be prepared to take over the work from the 30th June. Where they cannot take over the work from the 30th June, we shall then ask the present organisation, whatever that may be, whether the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association or local committee, or a hybrid of the two, which is now finding the advances, extra rent, and emergency allowances, to carry on the work, which they have done most of them so well, until the local committee can be actually formed, come into operation and be ready to take over the work under the Statute as we passed it.
I do not think my hon. Friend need be under the least fear that any of those allowances will be dropped. It is our policy to carry on those allowances on the same scale on which they are paid now, at all events, till the end of October, when we shall all have more time to review all these somewhat delicate and complicated matters. Perhaps by that time, too, we shall receive a good deal of local advice from local committees which have been formed, and we may possibly be able to alter our system in many respects and make several changes in the policy adopted in the first two years of war which may cover many of the hard cases which have been alluded to so often in this House. My hon. Friend asked me whether I can say if the Government will introduce a Bill to set up one pensions body in one pensions building. That is a question he must address to the Prime Minister. I am only an Under-Secretary. I cannot be expected to say what Cabinet policy may be, or when time will be found for Bills and matters of that kind. I have stated my opinion when sitting on the side opposite, and I have done so on this side, and I have stated my opinions before the Committee. I have never altered my opinions in this matter. I am, I suppose, the originator of the 2365 proposal that there ought to be one pensions board or body in one pensions building to supervise all these matters of pensions, whether they be State pensions or supplementary pensions, whether they be flat rate or differentiated pensions.
The whole question is becoming so vast and so complex that I am perfectly certain, if you want real justice done, and if you want economy and a body to which can be addressed all the numerous questions that will be addressed to some such body for years to come, you need one body, controlled by one head, and responsible through that one head to the House of Commons. That is the policy I have always advocated. I advocate it just as strenuously now as ever, but being a minor Member of the Government I cannot be expected to say when a Bill will be introduced, and when the Prime Minister will give time for the discussion of matters of this importance.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
I want to say just one word with regard to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Wansworth (Mr. S. Samuel). I quite understand there not being any representative here of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to deal with this point, but it does certainly sound astonishing when the right hon. Gentleman tells us that there are £700,000,000 of Treasury Bills—that is, temporary loans—at the present time, and that this Bill, under Clause 2, gives power to add £300,000,000 to these Treasury Bills, making a total of £1,000,000,000 of Treasury Bills. I only rose to say that that is a very startling proposition, and that the right hon. Gentleman's speech is of a very startling nature, and I do hope the Government will see their way to allow it to be discussed in the Committee stage of this Bill. My hon. Friend will probably put down an Amendment to Clause 2, and I hope there may be a reply to his speech, as no reference has been made to it by any member of the Government on that Bench to-day. In 2366 the ordinary way it would be discussed on the Second Reading, but as there is no member of the Government present who can discuss it, or give any assurance, I hope they will see their way to discussing it on the Committee stage, if my hon. Friend puts down an Amendment to the Clause, because it is a matter of the greatest importance.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next (29th May).
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of 22nd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-seven minutes before Eight o'clock, till Monday next, 29th May, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 22nd February last.