HC Deb 01 November 1916 vol 86 cc1784-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, " That this House do now adjourn."

6.0 P.M.


At Question Time today I gave notice that I would raise a subject arising out of the answer given to me by the Financial Secretary to the War Office on Question No. 66. The question to which I refer related to a case which is only an example of many which are now frequently occurring. It is the case of a soldier who died, and who, in the terms of the Army Regulation, was not in position which left dependants upon him when he enlisted in the Army, and in consequence of this regulation the War Office refused, in the terms of their Order, to grant any pension. The consequence of this rule is that in all the cases where parents, instead of being provident and showing a desire for the welfare of their children, have sent them, in their early days, to occupations in which they can earn a considerable income, dependants had arisen before the lad had joined the Army, and in such cases a pension is granted to pre-war dependants. But in the case of parents who have seen to the education of their lads and sent them to the university, or have put them in apprenticeship, when their sons have enlisted they are, consequently, not pre-war dependants, and for that reason no pension is granted. I describe this system as a system which penalises parents who have made sacrifices in the interests of their children and in the interests of the State. I believe the rule was made by the Select Committee in the early months of the War, when they agreed on the principle of pre-war dependants as the result of previous experience. Had they foreseen the extent to which young men would enlist who were in the position of the young men to whom I have referred, they never would have accepted such a rigid rule. In the case which I have brought under notice it is true that no pre-war dependants had arisen, because the young man had not completed his university course, but in the course of another year his university curriculum would have been at an end, and by that time he would have been contributing to his widowed mother; but, because he patriotically enlisted in the Army before completing his university career, and before he had started to be a regular contributor to his parent, the widowed mother has no relief from the State. I think that is a situation which cannot be defended. It is true that the hon. Gentleman, in replying to a supplementary question, suggested that the Statutory Committee could deal with cases of that kind. It is true that the Committee is able to deal with certain cases of that kind; but, in view of the answer which was given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board about a fortnight ago to my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), it will be found that in this particular case the Statutory Committee is not entitled to make any grant. That answer was that in the case of soldiers who died in Mesopotamia the Statutory Committee were unable to make any grants out of their fund. So that in the case with which I am now dealing neither could there be a pension granted under the terms of the Army Regulations nor is the Statutory Committee legally empowered to make any grant. Obviously that is a condition of things which must be remedied. Personally, I do not desire that cases like this should simply be left to the Statutory Committee. I think not only in cases where there was pre-war dependence, but in cases where there was immediate or prospective dependence that there should be a claim on the part of the surviving dependant for a pension. I am quite sure that when this question comes to be thrashed out, and it must be, because many hon. Members are now receiving cases of a kind similar to that with which I deal, that the War Office will be driven to modify their Regulations. I suggest that the hon. Member should recommend that questions of this kind, not only this question, but questions of this kind which have arisen as the result of the experience of the present War, should be referred once more to the Select Com- mittee, and that the Select Committee should reopen with a view to revising the rules which they laid down on inadequate experience in the early stages of the War.


My hon. Friend has put the position very clearly and quite correctly before the House. He-says that the basis of pension in these cases has been settled on pre-war dependence and that that inflicts hardship in a number of individual cases, and he expresses the view that that is mistaken policy. The House will remember it is not the policy of the War Office. It is-the policy of the Select Committee which was appointed by the House to go into these questions, and I think I am right in saying that the House welcomed the appointment of that Committee because the House wanted to feel that the House itself was settling these different pension questions, and that they were not being left to, what shall I say, to the officials of the public Department. That, of course,, makes it impossible for the War Office to depart from the basis on which those pensions are assessed. My hon. Friend draws attention to a matter which astonished me at the time, and I am quite sure surprised the House at the time, and that is that in certain cases, such as Mesopotamia, where the troops are paid, or may be taken to be paid, out of Indian funds, the Statutory Committee is powerless to-give a pension from its fund. I do not think that that was the intention of the House when it set up the Statutory Committee. I am quite sure that those who are responsible will take steps to see if the legal opinion which has been given is sound. And I do not for a moment doubt it, and, if it is, steps must be taken to find some remedy for that shortcoming. My hon. Friend has made the suggestion that it would be a good thing if the Select Committee were reappointed to go into-the various questions, this amongst others, to which attention has been drawn. Of course, it is not for me to-say whether the Committee would be reappointed or not, but I will make sure that the views expressed by my hon. Friend reach 'the Prime Minister, and I do not doubt that the Government will give very full consideration to the suggestion.

Colonel YATE

May I ask what the hon. Gentleman meant by the Indian Fund, as I did not quite follow him? In the case of men killed in Mesopotamia, are the pensions to be paid from the Indian Fund? What is the Indian Fund?


Perhaps I did not succeed in making myself clear. The Indian Government is paying a certain proportion of the cost of the troops employed in Mesopotamia. That is what I meant by the Indian Fund. It is charged against the Indian revenue.

Colonel YATE

Then all casualties incurred in Mesopotamia will be charged to the Indian Government?


No. The arrangement is that the Government of India are contributing towards the cost of the "War the normal amount charged against Indian revenue for the maintenance of the Indian Army in times of peace.

Colonel YATE

Does that cover casualties?


I am sure we are all very glad to have the reply we have just heard from my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary. I gather from him that he is prepared to take up with the India Office the question of its position with regard to the Statutory Committee and our troops in Mesopotamia. I should like to remind him that there has been a long interval of time in which there have been very considerable casualties with regard to the Mesopotamian forces, and that both officers and men are therefore in the position, until such a decision has been come to, of being in many cases in dire want. I want to suggest to him that he should represent either to the Secretary of State for War or to the Secretary of State for India that this is continuing at the moment, and that it affects those men and that the matter is really urgent in the cases of these men. It is not a question of referring it to a Department. I do ask my hon. Friend if he will personally give this matter his own attention, because one knows of a great many cases of men who really ought to have their cases dealt with. If he does give that assurance, I am sure it will give satisfaction to us all.


Yes; I will give it my immediate and my personal attention.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Nine minutes after Six o'clock.