§ Mr. HOGGE
The Vote of Credit carries with it the provision of money for the dependants of our sailors and soldiers, and we have had within the past few days a statement from the Leader of the House with regard to the proposed increases to the wives of our serving men and their dependants. The figures which are involved are £14,000,000 for the wives and dependants of our serving men, and £9,000,000, a special provision for the dependants of apprentices—in all, some £23,000,000. I want this morning to discuss the adequacy or inadequacy of the proposals of the Government. The first criticism that I would offer is that the increases are all prospective and none of them retrospective. The amounts that are to be paid are to come into operation on the first pay day in October, so that for some considerable time yet, in spite of the long agitation for increases, these poor people will require to wait. While it is hard in the cases of wives and children it is even more hard in the cases of the mothers of apprentices, because in their case there has been no scale provision made for allowances at any period of the War, and the only way in which these mothers can obtain allowances now is, as the House knows, by application through the local war pensions committee. The practice of our local war pensions committees is not uniform. While a mother might be able to get an allowance in Newcastle, the same mother would be unable to get the allowance in Bristol. Therefore, the delay in awarding the new increases until the first pay day in October obviously bears much more hardly upon the mothers of apprentices than it does upon the other dependants who have been on scale all the time.
Let me proceed to examine in brief detail the proposals of the Government. The first point which I think commands the attention of the House is the fact that while the Leader of the House undertook 795 to consider increases for wives and dependants, the result of the deliberations of the Committee is that no increase of any kind is given to the wife. All the increases apply to children. I should like to know from the Leader of the House why it was that, having been charged by the House practically to look into this matter, he was unable to increase the wife's allowance. Later, I shall suggest the reason which I think has governed the action of the War Cabinet in these proposals, but the fact remains that although this question was remitted to the War Cabinet no allowance has been made for a wife. The House will remember that in 1914 the wives of our serving men were not in receipt of 12s. 6d., but of something round about 11s. 1d., and that in the four years' War there has, therefore, been an increase of less than 1s. 6d. per week to those wives. When we consider, as perhaps many Members of the House will consider in more detail, the question of the increased cost of living, it will be at once observed that no woman living in the circumstances in which the wives of our serving men now live can possibly maintain herself in physical efficiency on that 12s. 6d. I know, of course, that the reply is made by those who are opposed to an increase that it is a mistake to allow the wife of a serving man to draw an allowance and do no work, and that the amount awarded to the wife has at the back of it the suggestion that the woman should enter the industrial market and make a wage. I want to protest against that idea and against that theory. I consider that the Government, having conscripted the man to fight, has no right to conscript the woman for industrial service by awarding an allowance upon which she cannot maintain herself. It is meagre really in the case of the wife because she is, perhaps, the only unorganised unit in this country. I have often wondered what would have happened had the wives of our serving men been organised in the same way as our effective trade unionists. This figure I give subject to correction, but I think I am right that the railway union workers since the outbreak of the War have secured in war bonuses, owing to their organised strength, an increase in wages of 25s. per week. That is twice the amount that is now paid to the wife of a serving man. You have only to consider that fact to see how inadequate the provision is for the wives for whom we 796 are pleading to-day. I have said, and probably other Members will enforce the point, that no woman can live on that amount to-day. It becomes more unreasonable still when you consider that many of them have children to support.
The provision that the Government are making for children is a two-fold one. In the first instance, it is proposed to add 2s. 6d. per week in the case of a woman with one child, and in any of the remarks which I am making I am taking basal figures. I am leaving out of account such things as London rental allowance, because, of course, all the extra allowances are made for an extra liability. That may prevent any misunderstanding during the rest of the Debate. The wife with one child is in receipt to-day of 19s. 6d. per week, and the proposal of the Government is from the first pay day in October to raise that by 2s. 6d., bringing it therefore up to 22s. Once you get beyond the wife with one child, then the proposal of the Government is one that I fail completely to understand. It is proposed in the cases of wives with more than one child to pay 4s. 6d. irrespective of the number of children. Obviously, it follows that the more children the wife of a serving sailor or soldier has the less she is going to obtain from the increase offered by the Government. The woman may have as many as five or six children. If the increase of 4s. 6d. has to be divided between those children, and if you compare that with the 2s. 6d. which is given in the case of the first child it stands to reason that the scheme is inadequate. I know, of course, that the reply will be at once given that greater hardship arises, according to some people, in the case of the woman who has only one child, and that the increase of 2s. 6d. in her case is to meet that hardship. If that were true, which I doubt, then it would be equally true, if not more true, that greater hardship would arise in the case of the childless wife. If you increase the allowance to the wife with one child and leave the allowance of the wife with no children as it is, obviously the hardship would be greater in that case.
Let me illustrate that by one or two examples of the hardship that does exist. I have brought down with me one or two budgets. I do not intend to weary the House with any great detail, but simply to use them to emphasise the value of the point I am attempting to make. Here is 797 the weekly expenditure of a wife with one child from Rotherham, a fairly typical provincial town. We have to bear in mind that practically the large bulk of women affected are the women in our provincial towns. This woman spends the following amount each week, or at least would like to spend the following amount each week. I would like to draw the attention of the House quite closely to this one budget as a typical budget, and I will not give any others. She pays 6s. rent. Of course, that item may be met by a supplementary rent allowance from the local war pensions committee. It is doubtful whether it will all be met in that way, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. He knows the practice both of the Civil Liabilities Committee and of the local war pensions committee, and he will probably agree that the practice was in favour of the committee every time. This woman pays, in addition to 6s. rent, 2s. 6d. a week for coal, 1s. 9d. for milk, 7d. for sugar, 8d. for tea, 3d. for jam, 1s. 5½d. for butter, 1s. 4d. for flour, 9d. insurance, 3s. 5d. for bacon, 2s. for meat, 5d. for lard, 10½d. for lighting, 3s. for clothing and boots, 6d. for stamps and paper for use in writing to her husband who is serving abroad, 4½d. for soap, 1s. for sundries, such as salt, pepper, and things of that sort, 3d. for firewood, 5d. for rice, 1s. for eggs for her child, and 10d. for potatoes. I do not think that is an extravagant menu for the week. I will make it less extravagant in a sentence or two, but as it stands it is not extravagant. It comes to £1 9s. 4½d. To make it less extravagant, let us assume that the expenditure on bacon and meat, which are the largest items, making together 5s. 5d., is deducted. That leaves the woman with an expenditure of 23s. 5d. If we go still further and deduct the rent allowance completely, and assume that that is all paid by the local war pensions committee, it leaves the expenditure of that woman, on the basis I have given and without any meat at all, at 18s. a week.
It is obvious that if we are attempting, as I presume we are all honestly trying to attempt, not only to prosecute the War vigorously, but, as far as we can, to maintain the standard of living at home, because my right hon. Friends will agree a great amount of the success of the future of this country depends upon the physical fitness of the children being maintained while their fathers are away 798 fighting; therefore anything that has a deleterious effect physically upon the wife and children would be put to the debit balance of the State. This budget could be amplified by practically every Member of the House. I presume there is not a Member listening to the Debate or who intends to take part in it who does not know from his own experience or from that of others that it is practically impossible to maintain this efficiency on the sum that is awarded. I say deliberately, after thinking the problem right through, that the provision made by the Government for children such as I have described is totally inadequate to meet the needs of the situation. I have dealt with the wife. The absence of any provision in that case is scandalous. It is an insult to the men who are fighting to learn that this House of Commons, which is voting £700,000,000 to carry on the War, which has given very much more than that to the Allies who are engaged in the War with us, cannot see its way to give something to the allies of the men in their own country. If any body of people has borne the heat and burden of this War more than any other persons it is the wives of the men who are fighting, who have had to do without the company of their husbands, who, while they have had to do that, have been torn with anxiety as to the safety of their husbands, and, in addition to that, have been set the extraordinarily difficult problem of trying to keep an honest roof above their heads. I use the word "honest" deliberately, because in the course of my correspondence, which is by no means small, both with the wives of the men who are serving and with the men themselves at the front, I have received a number of letters, which I do not care to make public, in which the evidence has been incontrovertible that, on account of the smallness of the allowance, these women have fallen from the path of virtue and have distressed not only their own husbands away at the front, but their own relatives. I remember one particular case, which is the most extraordinary letter of any I have ever received. It was from an officer in Egypt, in which he said that no fewer than fifteen men in one company had received information with regard to their wives, and tracing it to the fact that these women were put up against the impossible problem here at home in attempting to live.
The third point with regard to the increases that are suggested is the much 799 vexed point of the allowance to the dependants of apprentices. I need not cover the ground again, because I have covered it and many others have covered it before. Briefly, the position at the moment is, that unless an apprentice was able—as a matter of fact very few of them are able to do it—to establish pre-war dependence, his mother was not entitled on any scale to any allowance, and the allowance, when it was obtainable, was only obtainable through the local war pensions committee. The Government apparently have considered that, and I want to draw the attention of the House very closely to the provision which they suggest will cover it. It is a long statement. It practically repeats many of the arguments that have been used in this House as to the need for the allowance, and it winds up by sayingIt has, therefore, been decided that an exception should be made in the class of cases alluded to above—That is the apprentice allowance—and that when the soldier has attained twenty-one years of age, at which time he would have been able to make some contribution to the family income, some allowance should be paid to the parents.",Further down in the suggestion of the Government they agree thatA flat rate of 5s. per week should be given to the parents of all soldiers, sailors, and airmen over the age of twenty-one and under the age of twenty-three.Every boy I ever knew was out of his apprenticeship on or before he was twenty-one years of age, and the average youth of twenty-one would be in ordinary circumstances a journeyman worker, entitled to, and probably drawing, a substantial wage. If that boy had not been called to the Colours until he was twenty-one there would be no question at all about his allowance, because, earning a workman's wage, his dependants, whoever they were, father, mother, sisters, or any relatives, would obviously, on the basis of the wage that he was earning, be able, without any difficulty, to establish a separation allowance up to the maximum of 12s. 6d. a week, with any extra allotment he cared to make from his pay. So that to fix the datum line at twenty-one altogether leaves out of account that fact, and it is therefore a datum line which requires some explanation from the Government.
800 I have here two short letters which illustrate this point, and are the kind of letters which I dare say most Members receive. This woman says:In reference to the attached announcement re a flat rate for apprentices' payment, could you do anything to bring before the War Cabinet the great injustice done to parents whose sons joined up at eighteen years, a few months before the completion of their indentures? Host apprenticeships expire upon reaching the age of nineteen. Surely that should be the accepted age, as the strain for parents undoubtedly during wartime has been very heavy, as in my case, by submitting particulars to the War Pensions Committee, is not a fair way of dealing with these affairs. My son joined up last November, eighteen years of age, and at the present time it will be two years, if at all, before he can benefit by this allowance.Observe that the Government, owing to national necessity, has actually put into the firing line boys of eighteen and a half to nineteen, where they may be killed and are frequently wounded, and therefore subsequently disabled. That is a fact which we should not lose grip of. The Government uses boys in that way and then say to the mothers who gave them up to the Army that they cannot draw any allowance from them until they are twenty-one, and that then all they can draw is a flat rate of 5s. The uses made by the nation of the boy and the abuses of the privileges of the mother stand out in such distinct contrast that no Government which values its own respect can really stand by this proposal. It must go. I can see no other way out of the difficulty. The other letter is practically in the same kind of terms. It comes from a mother who is waiting—Once more I am troubling you, as I have waited patiently for a concession. What a disappointment it is for lads over twenty-one. My youngest boy was called up in March. His time was four years apprenticeship, up in October, 1918.So that although his apprenticeship is out and he would be earning a journeyman's wage, and therefore entitled to a maximum if it were possible to get it, other circumstances being equal, of 12s. 6d., they limit that by a flat rate. I believe honestly that the Government has come to this conclusion because it is afraid of the subsequent increases which would require to be made in the pension warrant if it touched the separation allowance of the wife of the serving soldier. A woman to-day gets 12s. 6d. separation allowance. I am again dealing with scale payments and I do not forget the variations in pensions, such as 801 alternative pensions and that kind of thing. As a widow she gets 13s. 9d. Ever since the scale was drawn up I have wondered what the serving men in the Army and the Navy think of their value, because obviously on that scale the value of a serving man at the Front to-day is 1s. 3d. a week. If his wife gets 12s. 6d. when he is alive and 13s. 9d. when he is dead, obviously on scale 1s. 3d. represents the difference in the value of the man dead and alive. It is rather curious, in pursuing these figures a little further, how the man's value diminishes if he has children. Because the wife and two children of a serving man get 24s. 6d. separation allowance, but if she were a widow with two children she would get 25s. 5d. pension on scale, which is a difference of 11d. So that whereas a man without any children is worth on scale 1s. 3d. a week, a man who has two children is only worth on scale 11d. a week. It rather suggests the anomaly of the 2s. 6d. separation allowance for the first child, and the 4s. 6d. for all others. Presumably the House is still dissatisfied not only with the separation allowance but with the pension. We must still keep in mind this fact, which I do not think has been elaborated nearly enough, that the whole basis of our pension scheme is our separation allowance, and it explains the flat rate of 5s. to the mothers of apprentices. If a boy is killed in the War the mother becomes a dependant parent. She is dealt with under Article 21 of the Royal Warrant under which she is entitled to a minimum pension of 3s. 6d. a week and a maximum of 15s., and the basis of what she gets from the Pension Minister is that portion of her separation allowance which is given by the Government, and which does not include the allotment of pay of the boy, so that in this provision, by which you give a flat rate of 5s., no contribution presumably coming from the boy in this case as it would be a separation allowance, none of these parents would be able to establish a greater pre-war dependence than 5s. Therefore, the parents when they become dependent parents, pensionable on account of the death of the boy, would only in either case be able to establish a pension of 5s. a week. I think that is an iniquitous proposal. The whole scheme of the Government is full of anomalies. Take their present proposals. The first child to-day on separation allowance gets 7s., and it is proposed to give another 802 2s. 6d., making it 9s. 6d., but the first child of a widow, when the father is killed, only gets 6s. 8d., as against the 9s. 6d. that is given to the child when its father is alive, and when possibly the man could increase the separation allowance by an allotment of his pay. The House will know that a soldier is entitled to allot up to 3s. 4d. of his pay as a serving soldier in allowance which his wife draws. Therefore, in pressing the Government for a further increase, as I hope the House will do, and in establishing the right to claim this further increase, I hope the House will not forget that the foundation stone of our pension system is made in the provision of separation allowances, and that if we obtain, as I think we ought to obtain, a higher rate of separation allowance for the wife and a better scheme for the mothers of dependent apprentices, we are not only securing the advantage of the wife of the serving man, but we are establishing a later claim, which I think this House will have to face as surely as we have met this afternoon, to increased pensions.
There is a third point which does not quite touch the Financial Secretary to the War Office, but it deals with the pension side of the question. I want, on the earliest possible opportunity that is afforded in this House, to protest most strongly against the Ministry of Pensions setting up a Committee to administer voluntary funds to provide for the disabled man what the State ought to provide for him. I would like to call the attention of the House to the circumstances which have led to this appeal by the Ministry of Pensions for £3,000,000 of charitable money, which, in my view, is a disgrace to the Ministry, a disgrace to the Government, and a disgrace to this House. When we considered the Pension Warrant originally, the House will remember that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. McKenna) made an attempt in this House to secure £1,000,000 from the Prince of Wales' Fund in order to finance the Statutory Committee. The House resented that very strongly, and compelled the late Government to withdraw from that proposal. The House will also remember that an attempt was made by the Government to make use of local funds throughout the country, and that we had an agitation, led principally by the mayors and lord mayors and corporations of great cities in 803 this country, against any local money being taken into consideration at all in providing for pensions.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
Does the hon. Member suggest, in connection with the present voluntary fund, that it is an attempt on the part of the Government to get control of funds raised by the mayors and lord mayors?
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
Is the hon. Member not a little involved? I do not think he means that attempts to make use of voluntary funds have been defeated, but—
§ Mr. HOGGE
I am not often accused of being involved. I thought that, like the late Mr. Chamberlain, my words were so simple that any child could understand them. The House having by unanimous consent deplored any of these attempts, you have the Government now, through the Ministry of Pensions, attempting to provide funds for purposes which ought to be provided by the State. That is a very important point, and we must not lose sight of it. Is it sufficient for the Government to dispose of a disabled man and the dependants of a man who has been killed by a pension scheme pure and simple, or is it the duty of the State, having conscripted a man for service from industrial and business activity, to restore that man as far as possible to the position from which they took him? I maintain strongly that it is the bounden duty of the State to restore every disabled man as far as possible—we cannot do more than that, because he has to carry his disability with him—to the position from which we took him. I would incidentally remind the House that that is what we are doing with the money which is being lent to the State to carry on this War. None of the money that is being lent to the State to carry on the War is returned to anyone who lends it carrying a disability. On the contrary, it carries a high rate of interest 804 and the return of the capital. Just as the State deals in that way with money so the State must deal with discharged and disabled men. If a disabled soldier goes to the Ministry of Pensions and says, "It is true I am in receipt of a disability pension, but before the War I had a little shop, or I had a little business of some kind and I cannot restart that because I have no money." In that case it is the duty of the State, if and when it can, to start that man in that business. Not only is it the duty of the State but it is a wise thing for the State to do, because every man you resettle in the position from which you took him you are lessening the possible pool of unemployment after the War. If the House agrees that it is the duty of the State to do this, then it cannot be done from voluntary funds. The proposal of the Ministry of Pensions is that these men applying to this voluntary fund shall have an amount of £25, to be increased if the fund increases. The sum of £25 goes into £3,000,000 one hundred and twenty thousand times, so that if you give £25 to 120,000 disabled men you have exhausted your £3,000,000. We have discharged and pensioned over 400,000 men, to say nothing at all about women and dependants. If you lump them altogether there is nearly 1,250,000, and I say it is unfair to these people to attempt to deal with them in this way. The only authority that can deal with them properly is the State, and this House having said at the beginning of the War that discharged men should never be treated in any charitable way again is losing a considerable amount of dignity in allowing the Ministry of Pensions and the Government to set up a voluntary scheme out of which these men are to be assisted.
We want these men to stand on their own feet and to come to the State and demand their rights and to receive justice from the State. It slackens a man's real moral fibre if he has to go to a local committee in a provincial town and ask them to put up a claim to the Government for a paltry £25 to set him up in a little business. There could be no graver national mistake than to attempt to set men up in small businesses. It simply means that they are going to lose the amount of their Grant in attempting to start that business, and that they are going to mortgage their little pension to keep their businesses alive, and that in a short time, owing to the competition, these 805 men are going to be thrown out again on to the streets for the State to look after them. Therefore, I want to make the strongest possible protest of which I am capable against the Government sanctioning a policy on behalf of the Minister of Pensions for the provision of funds for any such purpose. What we want to know to-day is why the Government have not increased the wives' allowance. I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell us whether the reason that it has not been increased is that it is the foundation-stone of the pension scheme. I would also like him to tell us the reason for this extraordinary distinction between the provision of 2s. 6d. for the first child and 4s. 6d. for all others, by which a woman gets less the more children she has. I would also like him to tell us the justification for postponing the distribution of a flat rate to the mothers of apprentices until they are twenty-one, when they will be on their own feet, and I would ask him, Will he repudiate on behalf of the Government and on behalf of the State that at any time this nation is going to deal with our discharged men in any charitable form? Considering the future of this country, the various parties into which the people who are now enlisted will fall, and the future domestic, social, and industrial and economic outlook, a great deal is going to depend on the spirit of the men discharged from the Army. If these men are disgruntled we may have in this country happenings of which the whole country may be ashamed. If, on the other hand, these men feel that the nation has done a fair and square deal, they would be satisfied to work in constitutional ways for the reforms that they and all of us desire, and it would be much better for all of us if they are put into that position and are able to look back and say: "We fought for our country, served our country, and saved our country, and now our country has saved us in our disability."
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
My hon. Friend, in the very admirable speech just delivered, has thrown his net very widely and with very small meshes, and in many ways the House might be quite content to leave the case where he has put it and listen to the reply of my right hon. Friend. But there are one or two things, perhaps, to be said, if for no other reason than the reinforcement of his position. I would like very briefly to associate myself with his protest against the voluntary fund, which is being got up by the Pensions 806 Minister. It is a disgrace to this House and a disgrace to the nation that men in the position of those who are supposed to be beneficiaries under it should have to be beholden to charity in order to get what every decent-minded citizen desires them to get. The men who will be chiefly affected by this are an especially deserving set of men. I oppose, and I hope the Minister of Pensions will take into account what my hon. Friend has said, the idea of putting disabled men on the shelf, as it were, by giving them a small business. A small business is a bottomless pit. You can put every sixpence of your savings into it and lose it all and in the end be worse off than at the beginning. But there is a certain number of men now serving with the Colours who, having started small businesses, made a success of them. They have done their best since the War began to keep them going. Military exigencies have called these men to the Colours. Their businesses are decaying. Some of them have been closed. I am told by a large number of them who write me that if they could only get some sort of assurance that when they return to civil life they can be put in a way to get back to their old customs they see a way to make a decent living. Those are the men who are to be helped.
Those men would be very much worse off than ordinary workmen. There will be a demand for the labour of these men. It may be a very limited and intermittent demand, but there will be a demand. But those men, having lost their capital, as a great many of them have done, having lost their connection, as most of them have done, will require to get some help from the State, so that they may be in a position to start life at the point they left off when they had to go into the Army. If nothing is done for them our pauper population is going to be enormous. Moreover, they are a body of men with a great deal of self-respect. Their independence to a very considerable extent has made them leave their workshops and start small enterprises on their own account. Others have been physically weakened. They belong not to the first grade of physical efficiency of labour, and after serving in the Army their physical efficiency in a great many cases will be somewhat lower than when they first went in. Therefore, you have got a type of men with a great deal of self-respect. That is combined with a somewhat low grade of 807 physical and hustling efficiency. That type of man ought to receive special consideration from the State. His self-respect would not be appealed to by a £3,000,000 charitable fund, and his financial necessity would not be met from such a fund. I hope, therefore, that the House will adopt regarding this attempted charity the same attitude that it did on two occasions referred to by my hon. Friend. I will say nothing about the position of the apprentice's mother and the dependants. I think that my hon. Friend has said all that need be said about that, but there is still something to be said about the separation allowance.
I start with the proposition which I think is reasonable, if, indeed, it is not too modest, that the separation allowance to-day should be equal in real value to the separation allowance of 1914. I do not think anybody will dispute that. As a matter of fact, I think there is substantial ground for a considerable increase, but I want to put the matter on a basis such as any reasonable man would care to lay down. Between 1914 and 1917 prices have increased by something like 107 per cent., but I am quite willing to make the official deduction from that. First of all, however, I should point out that lower grade foodstuffs and lower grade clothing-stuffs are substituted for the higher grade pre-war foodstuffs and pre-war clothing-stuffs, and the increased prices range somewhere about from 70 per cent. to 107 per cent. I think that the Government increase is too general, but I will adopt it, and will take the instance of a wife and two children who, in 1914, received 17s. 6d. separation allowance. Seventy per cent. on that makes 30s. for wife and child included; under this new scheme they get 29s. If you take the case of a wife and three children, the family have an allowance of 20s. to begin with, and 70 per cent. on that is 34s., but they only get 32s. 6d., so that they are short by 1s. 6d. If you take the case of a wife with four children, the payment was 22s., and 70 per cent. on that is 37s. 4d., and they now get 25s. 6d. If you take a wife and one child—just to take the matter right through—they receive 15s., and 70 per cent. on that is 25s. 6d.; they now get 22s. The simple fact of the matter is that anybody who knows what a woman with two children has to do in the way of meeting expenses will see that 29s. is not an adequate allowance under present conditions, which are 808 almost impossible. Clothing alone is very difficult to get now, the prices being so high, that a woman with 29s. and two children cannot buy anything at all.
Let me take the scale on another footing. At the present moment a woman without any children gets 12s. 6d., and no change has been made in that allowance; but a wife with one child gets 7s. increase, and at the present moment under the existing scale you add 2s. 6d., and you get an increase of 9s. 6d. When the second child comes the increase at present is another 5s., and under the new scheme it is 7s. With the third child the increase is 3s. 6d., at the present time, and under the new scheme it is still only 3s. 6d. With each child added to the family the jumps in the income are simply and absolutely absurd, when considered in relation to the increased expenses of the family. The present drop between the second and the third is 1s. 6d.; the drop that is going to be created under the new scheme is 3s. 6d. The drop between the second and fourth, under the present scale, is 2s., and the drop under the proposed scheme between the second and fourth is 4s. I do not know what the explanation of that is, but I know that if you were to put these figures before a competent housekeeper and say, "I will give you so much for two children, and so much less for the third, and very much less for the fourth, and still much less for others," no competent house-keeper would take the responsibility of looking after a family of one, two, three, or four children under such a scale of allowances as that which is proposed under the new scheme. After all, we have to look at it from that point of view, otherwise we would not be doing our duty, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that his proposed scheme should be reconsidered, because it is not at all fair, especially under the conditions which now exist.
I leave the case of childless women, which was so adequately dealt with by my hon. Friend. There is one other point that I wish to put before the right hon. Gentleman. Everybody admits now, and the Government itself has admitted, that for months and months the separation allowance must have been inadequate Nothing has happened within the last six or twelve months which would more justify the increase which the Government themselves have now granted. The conditions have been very much the same in 809 the last six months or twelve months, and recent inquiry has persuaded the Government to increase the allowance. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that the increased pay should date back, and I think the Government must be content to give it at once from the 1st January. I hope that the House will come to the conclusion that it is quite necessary to postpone this particular proposal until it has received further consideration, especially when everything is taken into account, the curious arrangement of the scale, the insufficiency of the amounts, and the ungenerous way in which the State is meeting its obligations to the dependants of the defenders of this country. I hope that the scale is not yet finally fixed, and I trust that this Debate will persuade the Government that it must endeavour to meet this matter a little more adequately than this scale at present does. I hope before we go home this afternoon I may receive a statement from the Government which will make this scheme a little more satisfactory to this House, and that we shall be able to get an adequate scheme established.
Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL
There is one point to which I wish to draw the attention of the Government, and that is the amount of separation allowances to soldiers' wives and families. It is extraordinary that a man who is living at home, and has been permitted to do so by the military authorities, should be mulct in 6s. 7d. per week as compared with the man who receives the ordinary separation allowance. I want to make myself perfectly clear. This is designated Family Allowance, Scheme 1. The man gets 11s. 8d. per week, the consolidated family allowance is 20s. 6d., and the London area allowance is 3s. 6d., giving a total of 35s. 8d. The Government cannot imagine for one moment that 35s. 8d. is a reasonable sum out of which a man has to live and provide for his wife and home, as well as pay his rent. We have only to look at the rates of wages that are now paid to ordinary artisans. We find they have tremendously increased. I am not going to discuss the question whether that increase is right or wrong, but the fact remains there has been an enormous increase, and when we inquire why it has been necessary to grant it, the Government reply has usually attributed it to the increased cost of living. When you come to the case of the man who has volunteered for service, 810 as a great many of these men did in the early days of the War, giving up the positions they occupied in order to fulfil their duty and privilege as a citizen, you must remember that the State on its part owes a duty to them, although I am afraid it has been a little late in recognising that duty. Let us compare the figures in the case of that man with the payments to the soldier who is receiving the ordinary separation allowance. What is called the family allowance is given to the man who lives at home, who has to travel to and from his work, and in many cases has to pay travelling expenses, and who incurs additional expenses for nourishment while away from home out of this magnificent sum of 35s. 8d. per week.
The man who gets the ordinary separation allowance receives altogether 42s. 3d. a week. His pay, 11s. 8d., his ration allowance (including the increase of 4d. recently granted) 14s. 7d., his soldier's allowance 12s. 6d., and his London area allowance 3s. 6d.—a total of 42s. 3d. a week. I do not think anyone will say that 42s. 3d. represents too generous an allowance, but if the Government recognise that such a sum should be given to a man who has not the expense of travelling to and from his work, who is living in billets or barracks, and has to provide no food outside, surely it must be difficult to justify the payment of 6s. 7d. per week less to the other man. I do not for one moment want the right hon. Gentleman to think that the soldier living under a separation allowance is getting too much. I think the boot is on the other leg. He is getting too little, but how much more palpable must it be that the man with a family allowance is receiving a great deal less than he ought to do. Then, again, take the case of a soldier with one child. The discrepancy in that case is 7s. 7d. per week instead of 6s. 7d. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is in a position to give a reasonable reply on this question. I have discussed the matter with all classes of men, I have talked it over with Members of this House of all ways of thinking, and not one has been able to find any justification. The explanation seems to me this, that the matter has been more or less overlooked. It has been brought up here casually by way of question and answer, and although we always do get courteous replies from the right hon. Gentleman, I must say that in this matter there has been evasion on his part. 811 He has not been able to give a reasonable excuse for making this differentiation. I plead with the right hon. Gentleman, although it is late in the day, although this has gone on for a considerable period, that he should not now tell me that as it has gone on since the War started it must continue. That is not a reasonable reply. When we find things are wrong and bring them before the Government it is the duty of the Government either to show reasonable cause for not altering them or to apply a remedy. I do not want to waste the time of the House. No doubt many hon. Members wish to discuss this matter, but I must impress the importance of it on the right hon. Gentleman.
I have another point to which I wish to draw his attention, and that is in regard to the London allowance, which is granted to those who are living or were originally living in the London area owing to the extra cost of rent and other things. The grant amounts to 3s. 6d. per week, and it is paid to the wives of men living in the London area. It was agreed that if these women moved out of the London area the grant ipso facto ceased to exist. If that is right, and I think it is quite right, I say, on the other hand, that if it is incumbent upon some of the women who have been living outside the county of London to move into London, owing perhaps, as is the case very often, to the fact that they have to perform work of national importance in London, surely it is necessary, as the Government have taken away the 3s. 6d. when they moved from London into the country, that the Government should give the grant of 3s. 6d. a week to these people. In reply to a question the other day on this very subject, the right hon. Gentleman said, to my surprise, that this was something that had gone on since the commencement of the War and that there was no reason to alter it. I do not really think the right hon. Gentleman means that, or that he intends to tell hon. Members that if they bring to the notice of the Government something that is wrong they are not going to rectify it simply because it has been in existence since the commencement of the War. The great majority of people did not anticipate that the War was going to continue for such a long period, and therefore many of these cases of injustice have been left in abeyance in the hope that we should have a termination of hostilities. Those hopes not having been realised, it is high time, 812 and past high time, that many of these things should and must be righted. I therefore venture to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to take up this matter, because it affects an enormous number of people, and to say that the Government, having considered it, are only too desirous to put right what they have found to be wrong.
I desire to bring one more matter before the House, and that is with regard to men who unfortunately lost their lives previous to July, 1916. I am speaking now on behalf of the widows of these men. I have recently put down on the Question Paper a case that has been brought to my notice with regard to a poor woman who has applied time after time for the large sum of £5 from a magnanimous Government which has deemed it advisable to accept the responsibility as and from 16th July, 1916, and yet they said that the widows of those who had been killed previous to that date should receive the sum of £5, or in a great number of cases were granted £5 by the Patriotic Society. I do not think that that is right. If the Government thought it was reasonable that £5 should be paid to these widows, they have no right to say, because it was paid by this voluntary fund, that cases brought to the notice of the Government now shall not receive attention on the ground that they occurred previous to July, 1916, when the matter was administered from the Patriotic Fund. It does not seem right, and it is not right. If the sum was granted and was given in cases before July, 1916, out of the Patriotic Fund, surely the Government ought not to act in such an exceedingly niggardly manner and try to evade their responsibility by saying that the Government did not make these payments before a certain date and therefore cannot be held responsible now! I hold in my hand a most pitiable letter from one of these unfortunate widows, who asks if I can tell her on what grounds other widows have received the money when she is deprived of it. She says she has to strive very hard, and that every 6d. is of the utmost importance to her, and she has asked over and over again for this sum of £5 without getting it granted to her. She says she is told first to write here and then to write there. I have taken the matter up with the pensions committee, and I appreciate that as far as the Parliamentary Secretary is concerned he has done his best in the matter, but there is some line that is drawn which 813 rules out and makes of no account the sympathy of the Parliamentary Secretary. This poor woman says that she has other people living side by side with her whose husbands have been lost. "We have given our men to our King and our country,'" she says, "and much as we miss our husbands we feel that we have done our duty, but we do feel that the Government on its part ought not to try and evade responsibility by simply saying that from a certain date they have closed their books and that they are, therefore, not responsible." I venture to appeal to the Government not to have these hard and fast rules. It is not necessary. The House and the country do not want them. The country is prepared to provide the money that is necessary to carry on this War and to make provision for the widows and orphans of those who have unfortunately fallen, and the country would be the last to say that they agreed with the Government in adopting this niggardly policy, which the Government would be the first to deprecate if it were a question of a private employer. We have always tried and hoped to look upon the Government as a model employer, and I hope the matters which I have brought before the Government to-day will receive not only sympathetic consideration, but will receive the consideration of rectifying these wrongs and making the rectification retrospective in cases in which it is found to be necessary.
§ Sir J. BUTCHER
The question in which we are engaged this afternoon is, perhaps, one of the most important of all domestic war questions. Unless adequate provision is made for the wives and children of our fighting men, we shall be faced with three distinct results which will be disastrous. One is the suffering of the wives and children themselves; the second is the deterioration of our population and the great national loss in that great asset, namely, the children—the men and women of the future; and, thirdly, undoubtedly there is, or will be, unless adequate provision is made, much anxiety, much discontent, both here and in the fighting forces abroad, with the possible result of a diminution in the moral of the nation and its determination to see this War through. I have had, I suppose, like every other Member of the House, a good many letters on this subject. I have also personally seen a good many of the women who are affected by the inadequacy of the provision made for them, and 814 the result of my experience has been, until at any rate the recent concessions—about the adequacy of which I shall say a word in a moment—that undoubtedly there have been many cases where the provision made for the support of the wife and children was inadequate, and where there was serious consequent suffering. I think the country is grateful to the Government for the very large concessions which have been made. They amount to the large sum of £23,000,000 a year, but the actual large figures must not deter us at any cost from doing what we consider right in this matter, and if a larger cost than £23,000,000 is necessary, all I can say is that it must be found somehow or other, and the resources of the country, I think, must be pledged to the utmost limit in order to make provision for what I consider to be almost the first charge on the resources of the nation.
I should like to express my concurrence with what has been already said as to these concessions not coming into operation until 1st October of this year. I put aside the question, which possibly might be urged, that they should be made retrospective. Putting that out of the question, I can see no reason myself why they should not be brought into operation at once, and that is a matter on which I wish to urge the Government very strongly to reconsider their views. Before I come to the general question, I want for one moment to draw attention to a very interesting and very significant document which has recently come to my notice. It is the report of Dr. Sabnis, Tuberculosis Officer at York, to the Health Committee of the City Council as to the malnutrition amongst the children in the City of York and its consequent effect on the increase of tuberculosis in that city. It is a long document, elaborately worked out, but I do not propose to give to the Committee more than a summary of what he says. In effect, he says that his observations have satisfied him that there has been increasing malnutrition since the War amongst the children of the working-classes, and especially amongst the children of soldiers who are serving. That is a very serious matter, and that increasing malnutrition has been followed by an increase in tuberculosis amongst the children. I am afraid the conclusion is inevitable that that malnutrition, to some extent, at any rate, is caused by the insufficient allowances which have been 815 hitherto made to the wives and children. He gives five specific cases, which he has gone into, of a wife with one, two, three, four, and five children, showing in each case what the Government allowance is and showing what the net amount remaining for the food and clothing of the wife and children is, after deducting rent, insurance, coal, and gas. The average amount left for food and clothing of each person, after making those necessary deductions, is 4s. 7d. a week, or, in the case of a family of four, 18s. Under present conditions, would anyone say that it is possible to feed and clothe four people, three being children, on 18s. a week? I have had some figures looked up as to the Poor Law allowances for children, and I find in the case of boarders-out children the allowance for a child is 6s. 6d. per week, with £3 a year for clothing. In the case of standard homes under the Poor Law the allowance is from 8s. to 12s. until the child attains the age of sixteen. So that, comparing those figures with the amount given by Dr. Sabnis as payable for the children of soldiers, it would certainly seem as if, up to now, at any rate, the allowance to wives and children of soldiers have been insufficient.
May I just say one or two words as to specific cases which have been dealt with, and, first of all, as to the childless wife? As I understand, a childless wife receives a scale allowance in all cases of 12s. 6d. She may receive an additional allowance of 4s. a week if she is unable to work. Then, I think I am right in saying—and upon this I should like my hon. Friend's confirmation—that a childless wife comes under the special grants, and can get towards rent, insurance, and other contractual obligations up to a maximum of 12s., and, indeed, in some cases 22s., the exact amount being dependent upon the existing income she possesses, as compared with the pre-enlistment income of her husband. If I am right in those figures, I think the position of the childless wife is fairly well secured, but this depends to a very large extent upon the action of these special grants committees, and if one were perfectly sure that in every case the special grants committee would exercise their functions fairly reasonably, I do not think myself, so far as I can see, there is much to complain of. I do not know whether my hon. Friend 816 can give me an assurance that if the special grants committees do not exercise their discretion in a reasonable manner, there is some mode of controlling them and compelling them to act fairly in a particular case. As regards the wife with two children, her position undoubtedly has been considerably improved under this new scheme, and when an allowance is made by the special grants committee in proper cases, I doubt if there is great ground for complaint on the part of the wife with two children. But in the case of the wife with, say, three, four, or more children, I confess, to my mind, the allowance under the scheme is somewhat arbitrary, and I doubt if it will work out quite satisfactorily. Perhaps my hon. Friend, who is going to speak later, will explain this, and, if it turns out that this new arrangement works inequitably as between the wife with two children and the wife with a larger number of children, that they will correct it and introduce improvements into their scheme.
There is one other point which is of considerable importance, and that is the hardship which exists in many cases on the families of men who enlisted in the early days of the War, when wages were far lower than they are now, as compared with the allowances made to families of men who enlisted at a far later date. The men who enlisted in these early days deserve our sympathy and the expression of our gratitude in some concrete form to the greatest extent to which it can be given. They have borne the burden and heat of the day. They saved this country—and the world!—in the earlier days of the War, and if these men can be rewarded in any way possible by consideration for themselves and their families—these men who went out in those days and have borne the stress, strain, and hardship of battle for years—they are thoroughly entitled to such reward. How does this comparison work out? Under the special grant arrangement, the special allowance, as I understand it, is to be made to families who have to meet very special contractual obligations, such as rent, assurance premiums, and so on.
There is a certain maximum. The sum they have to get out of these grants is not to exceed the difference between the present income of the household and the pre-enlistment income, so that if you go rigorously to the amount of the income when the man enlisted, the amount of the 817 special grant that may be given to the families of the men who enlisted earlier is far less than that to the families of the men who enlisted later, because wages have gone up very much in the interval. Take the case of railwaymen, who are a large and important class of the community. Their wages have gone up something like from 2s. to 5s. per week, if you take the special war bonus as part of their wages. The Government have already made a certain concession in regard to them. They have allowed the wages of the men who enlisted, say, in 1914 to be estimated on the basis of the wages that they would have been paid in January, 1916. That is not enough. I think this grant ought to be given on the basis of the wages that are now being paid. May I call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench to the views upon this matter which have been expressed by the York Local Pensions Committee? I need hardly say that these pensions committees are in a position to appreciate the working of this scheme, perhaps, as well as anyone in the country. York draws attention to this point, and says:The families of men who are now being called up will be entitled to a very considerable grant under the new Regulations, whereas the families of the men who went straight from their regular employment to enlist are not able to have nearly so large a grant.They passed a resolution which I think they have forwarded to the Ministry of Pensions and some other Departments, in these words:This Committee urge that the grant made under Part II. of the Regulations of the Special Grants Committee of the Ministry of Pensions should be based on the rates of wages current in June, 1918, and not merely on the pre-enlistment wages, or the wages of June, 1916.That seems to me in itself to be a most reasonable proposal, and also, I may add, a very urgent one. I hope the Government will give immediate attention to it. I feel that the matters we are discussing this afternoon—I am sorry to say in rather a thin House—are of the utmost national importance. They are important not merely to the people actually concerned, the wives and children of the fighting men, who are deeply and anxiously concerned with the welfare of those whom they have left at home, but they are important to the nation as a whole, in view of the determined and successful prosecution of the War.
§ Mr. WING
I desire, in the few remarks I have to make, following the previous 818 speaker, to emphasise the feeling of the importance of the subject we are now considering. I am amongst those who are not unmindful of the action of the Government in the increased allowances that they have made. They seem to me, however, to be lacking in several particulars. First, there is the date of payment. This has been alluded to by succeeding speakers as October. If I understand aright the Regulations, it really is November, for it states that "it will not be possible for the Department to begin to pay before 1st November, and it will be several months after that date before the revision of Army allowances is completed." That seems to me to be getting very near to Christmas. A very large number of people who have had their hopes raised by the announcement of these increases will have their patience very severely tried, and I wish to join my hope with those which have been expressed, that there will be some reconsideration of this matter, and that in some way or other it will be hurried up, so that the payments may be made as early as possible. I should like to join with the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) in his expression of the very unsatisfactory state in which the case of the apprentices is met—namely, at a flat rate of 5s. per week. It is not enough. The age limit, too, is from twenty-one to twenty-three. The delay to my mind is unjust, because it places upon those who enlisted earlier a disadvantage which is not experienced by those who have been called up later. This is recognised by the various pensions committees that have to deal with these matters, because in every case in which there is an application of this kind it has to be made through these committees; and it seems to me a very ungenerous thing that you should call up the cream of our fighting forces, the young and vigorous, and that they should be treated in a way which is in no wise in harmony with their importance. The decision of the Government will leave thousands of parents chewing the cud of disappointment at the insufficiency of the amount granted, and at its conditions.
In relation to this new Warrant, the childless wife is left without any consideration except before the pensions committee. As has already been intimated, the temper of the pensions committee varies. Some of them are apt to give a generous interpretation of the rules and 819 regulations, and others are apt to do the opposite. In many instances it is thought that the official representing the Department of the right hon. Gentleman opposite is deeply interested in not carrying out his duties in a sympathetic spirit, and he sees that the rules and regulations are very exactly administered. The childless wife presents a very difficult problem, because in some instances she has been newly married, and perhaps living with her parents, and in other cases she goes out and earns money, and these reasons are urged for non-attention to the childless wife. She may be an ailing woman requiring support, and the amount she is receiving may not be sufficient. I suggest that there should be an additional amount allowed by the Committee under certain conditions.
A woman wants to maintain her pre-war respectability and she finds her means are not sufficient, and if she expresses any dissatisfaction the reply is, "Well, we are at war, and that accounts for the difference." I suggest that there should be some better means and some larger allowance granted to the childless wife than is granted at the present time. The soldier's wife is the only member of the State at the present time that is called upon not to accept more money than she received under pre-war conditions. If she appears before the committee the grant must not be over and above her pre-war income, allowing for the saving because the Government provide food and clothing for her husband. When the soldier's wife goes into a grocer's shop there is no differentiation between her and the wife of the munition worker and she is treated as any other woman, and the increased cost of living is the same to her as to the others. I think it is unjust that you should place upon her the embargo that, whatever other people may get and however high the price of living, that any income to her must not be above her pre-war income. That is unjust, and will not stand examination. The principle upon which these grants are made seems to me to be wrong.
The other matter I wish to call attention to is the question of widows' only sons, which the Government still continue to take, although they said they would not do so, and I wish to urge that where they do this that the amounts granted should be very much more generous than they have been and than they 820 are at the present time. The difference is that the Government are insisting upon certain conditions, that is to say, the amount of money received at a certain time shall regulate the money for all time in relation to the soldiers. You have to bear in mind that the soldiers whose complaints are the greatest are those who were the most willing to fight, that is, they were volunteers, and the conscript is having a very much better consideration in the way of pay than the volunteer. I have here a letter from the clerk to the Houghton-le-Spring Rural District Council, a responsible body, and they say:It has come to the notice of the Committee that several young men joined the Army before they were legally liable and their parents secured their release under Army Instructions to Class W Reserve. When the lads first joined the Army, small separation allowances and in some cases possibly none were allowed owing to the small wages earned by such lads prior to enlistment. After discharge to Class W they were enabled to earn larger wages, but when they were recalled to the Colours the separation allowances granted were those in existence previously based upon the earnings of such lads before first joining the force. The following case which came before my committee on Tuesday last explains more definitely what is meant. Andrew Bowey, 25158, D.L.I., enlisted in May, 1915, when a separation allowance of 5s. 6d. per week was established. He was subsequently transferred to Class W and was at home three months (30th October. 1916 to 8th February, 1917), during which time his certified earnings were 27s. 6d. per week. On the case coming before the pension officer for the second time, he valued the dependence again at 5s. 6d., ignoring the period of three months when the lad earned 27s. 6d. per week. My committee consider the present dependency should be based upon the "second" earnings, and they have recommended that it be fixed at 10s. per week, but they are afraid the War Office will not grant it.2.0 P.M.
They asked me to bring this case before the House, and I think it is really one which should have the consideration of the War Office together with very many more of which it is merely representative. I urge myself an earlier payment of these increases promised, a reconsideration of the same paid to the parents of apprentices, a levelling up of allowances, that is making the same payments to volunteers as are now paid to conscripts, and a further payment to the childless wife, and a reconsideration of the whole matter in the interests of the nation and the winning of the war.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
This is a subject of the greatest magnitude so far as its effects are concerned, and it is more important than any of the subjects that have engrossed 821 our attention for some considerable time past. The question of the allowances granted to the dependants of our soldiers must have in the future a very far-reaching effect on the rising generation, and in regard to the sort of stamina we are to have in the population from time to time. There was a great deal of expectancy in the minds of the public when it was announced some time ago that it was the intention of the Government to reconsider the question of allowances, and I know that expectancy was very keen indeed when last week the Government Report was issued as to the conditions under which the Government were prepared to reconsider these allowances. While the sum involved is a very large one as things go, or as they used to go in pre-war times, we have got rather beyond that kind of thing now, and although the sum of £23,000,000 struck the imagination as being a large addition to our expenditure, yet when we come to analyse it I think we shall find that while we are glad to have this £23,000,000 for allowances that does not cover at all the requirements of existing necessitous cases, and they are so distributed that they leave some very wide and unfortunate gaps on account of the way in which they are allocated. I want simply to endorse, without going over the same arguments, all that has been said by the previous speakers with regard to the keenness of the interest taken in this question by Members of this House, and by the community at large. We realise every one of us that we owe a deep and abiding duty to these men who are at this time upholding our liberties on the battlefield and we are anxious that those who enlisted very early in the War may be treated in the most generous manner, because I believe that those men who came out in the early days of the War, in 1914 and the early part of 1915, before there was any Conscription, are the men to whom we owe the deepest debt of gratitude. They voluntarily came forward in our hour of need and responded to the call of the country, and we should show our gratitude to these men and their dependants for what they did at that time above all others.
The allotment takes a very peculiar form in the new arrangement. I am not going to weary the House—I have had a heavy correspondence since the answer was given to me by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last night week—by giving 822 examples of budgets sent to me. One such budget was given to the House this morning by the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), and I think we may take it as typical of hundreds of others which could be produced by Members in all parts of the House. I wish simply to say that the budgets we have had show the inadequacy of the allowances now made in comparison with the rise in prices. I endorse all that has been said about the childless wife. I think her case is one which requires serious investigation. I know—it has been repeated here this morning—all the arguments put forward with regard to her income, but I have had brought before me and have correspondence here at the present time of cases where a childless wife is outside the whole of the arguments that have been used, and even with the extra allowance, where she is incapable of earning money, she cannot possibly live, even with the extra allowances, under the existing conditions. I do not want to repeat the arguments with regard to the peculiar case of the 2s. 6d. for the first child, and 4s. 6d. no matter how many other children there may be, but I endorse all that has been said.
There is, however, one class I particularly wish to appeal for, and to ask my right hon. Friend if he cannot with the other cases consider it seriously and alter it. This is the case of the apprentice. Where you are in a locality where there are a large number of lads that are apprenticed, where you know thoroughly well the great sacrifices made by the parents—and I happen to be so situated on account of the large engineering works in our locality—you know the great sacrifices made by the parents in apprenticing their boys. Many of us have begged them to do it, and encouraged them in doing it, because we know that the, skilled man, after he has served an apprenticeship, is of much better service to the country than the man who has gone into a blind-alley occupation, and, as the result of it, is able to contribute more to the household than the apprentice. Anyone who has been an apprentice must know, as I do, that the remuneration does not come up at all to the standard in any other occupation you may take, but what you are waiting for during the time you are learning your craft is for the last year or two when your remuneration goes up and there are other means of adding to it, and as you become more skilled you jump right into the standard rate of wages of the skilled men in 823 the particular industry to which you have devoted your time. I speak with practical experience, and can enter into the spirit of the fathers who have written to me. They have made this sacrifice. We are taking, owing to the necessities of the conditions of war, these lads or young men away from their occupation in the last period of their apprenticeship, or, as has been shown, just as they are passing away from their apprenticeship. The importance of the case has at last been acknowledged to be such as should be dealt with by the Government. There is something to be said for the, parents who have made this sacrifice having some allowance, and under the new scheme there is the allowance of the 5s. flat rate. That does not to my mind meet adequately the requirements of the case. I think you want to go more thoroughly into the conditions in which the parents or other relatives would have been when these individuals, for whom they have made the sacrifices, would have been able to contribute towards the household in which they lived. I know it is said in the Report that the cases are so numerous that it would be too much labour to carry on this investigation. I quite agree, but that is an argument why they should be reconsidered in a very generous spirit in regard to the flat rate. They are very numerous cases. They are so numerous that the Government has at last conceded something towards these dependants, and I ask them whether they think the rate of 5s. is anything like adequate to the needs of the case? I seriously ask for a reconsideration of that particular part.
The other portions have been dealt with by other Members of the House, but I seriously ask for the reconsideration of the case of the apprentice, as I am thoroughly conversant with the circumstances and know the sacrifices made by the parents. Any sacrifices of money they might have made by not going into other occupations, they cannot show as in the case of the lads earning large sums in blind-alley occupations. They cannot show so large a contribution to the household, but they can show what would have been the contribution had they not made the sacrifice in turning out a number of thoroughly skilled men. The case is one of title strongest there is, and I do not want to labour it any more, and do not want to occupy the time of the House by going 824 over the various arguments of the various Members, but I endorse all they have said, and trust that we may got a reply from the right hon. Gentleman; that he will be able to encourage us with the statement that the Government will arrive at their conclusion in connection with the readjustment of their allowances; that they will really consider them after the criticism that has Been made—because the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer expected criticism to take place this week, and now it has been made by those who have investigated the whole of the case, and are able to speak on behalf of those who have communicated with the Government, that they will deal with it in a kindly and open-hearted manner, and give effect to that by a readjustment of the allowance.
§ Mr. T. RICHARDSON
I hope the Government will not take the attendance here to-day as a reflex of the interest of the public outside in this very important question that is occupying the attention of the House. I think it would not be out of place to ask the House to remember that especially in the early days of the War not only the Government, but the country were pledged very completely to make the most generous possible provision not only for our soldiers and sailors, but also for their dependants. The Government, therefore, must not be surprised to find that up and down the country there is not only a feeling of disappointment, but also a very strong feeling of resentment. One or two speakers this afternoon have asked the Government and the House to keep in mind the fact that the volume of discontent and disapproval is very substantial and is making itself manifest from one end of the country to the other. I have risen more particularly to urge upon the Government to reconsider their decision concerning apprentices. Some of us during the last four years have had very much correspondence with Government Departments on this important subject. Yesterday a working collier and his wife, who have three sons who have joined His Majesty's Forces, were on these premises. One son had been a prisoner in Germany now for upwards of three years. I remember when I first came to this House receiving a letter from my old schoolmaster, asking me to go and have an interview with him. When I went he told me that his brightest boy in the school 825 was going to commence work in the mines, and he was very anxious that this bright boy, full of promise, should not do so, but he was the eldest of a family of eight children. I undertook to see the parents, and they agreed to allow the boy to continue at school. He succeeded in getting a scholarship under the county council, and since I have been a Member of this House he has passed the London Matriculation. For twelve months he worked as an uncertificated teacher to supplement the earnings of his father in order that he might go to college. He went to college, and was taken from there into the Army. The second boy has also gone into the same profession, and the father told me yesterday that although he has one son, now a prisoner of war in Germany, who has had twelve months at college and whose fees have been paid for the second term, a second son who is now in hospital, and a third who is in the fighting, line in France, the Government have declined absolutely to make any consideration for any of those boys.
I submit that the Government did not meet the needs of these claims when they fixed the maximum at 5s. per week, and did not admit of a claim until the boys had reached twenty-one years of age. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the case I have quoted is only one of many that have come under my own personal observance, and I do earnestly plead with the Government to do elementary justice to citizens who were rendering a very great national service as the result of great sacrifices in trying to give their boys the opportunity not only of a thorough education, but of a professional career. I want to register my protest against the Government making this new scale, which is very imperfect and very incomplete prospective. It is not to operate until October. One hon. Gentleman has quoted from the circular, showing that the first payment is not to be made until November. The Government have been compelled by force of public opinion to recognise that the allowances are very inadequate, and it is not treating this House and public opinion outside fairly, and, indeed, it is adding injury to insult, having given that decision after long delay and overdue inquiry, to say that it is to be post-dated some two or three months hence. I earnestly hope that, as the result of this discussion, the Government, amongst 826 other concessions, will decide that it is not to be post-dated, and that they will apply it at the earliest possible moment, and that they will give more sympathetic and more favourable consideration to the claims of the apprentices. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there are thousands of homes in this country of the type of which I have spoken, where working men and their wives have made tremendous sacrifices in order to give their boys a better education to put them into the teaching profession. I have given the case of a working collier who has two sons in that category, and who has not received a single cent from the Government. I am certain that if the Government would have regard to the feeling of the public on this question they would remedy that injustice which has been so obvious and transparent for such a long time.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
The representative of the Government will agree that the Debate to-day has been extraordinarily useful in bringing out a large number of points which require careful consideration. I have sat through the whole of the Debate, and I do not think I have heard anything in the nature of an attempt to score off the Government or off any of the Departments. Every speech has contained some definite statement of grievance or of fact, with the request that those grievances or facts should be looked into, and I do hope that every official in the Government Departments concerned will be requested by their chiefs to read the OFFICIAL REPORT of this Debate in order that the various useful points which have been raised by so many Members should be thoroughly considered and, where practicable, dealt with. Several complaints have been made about the grading scale, and, personally, I agree that there are some very extraordinary anomalies. It is difficult to understand why the separation allowance for one motherless child should be increased by 3s. per week and, at the same time, the allowance for the second or third motherless child should only be increased by 1s. I have a number of points which are highly technical to raise, and it will be almost unfair to expect the right hon. Gentleman to answer them on the spur of the moment without having an opportunity of investigating such reasons as may exist for the decisions which have been arrived at.
827 It might, perhaps, meet the views of my right hon. Friend and, on the whole, be more useful if, instead of attempting at considerable length to explain all these points in a speech and so occupy the time of the House, I were to put these matters in questions for reply next Tuesday. That would give the right hon. Gentleman's advisers or the persons concerned in the Government Departments an opportunity of giving reasoned answers. Therefore, I propose to skip the greater part of the matter which I had included in my notes for a speech to-day and to adopt the course of including it in questions.
An extremely important point was raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for York (Sir J. Butcher) in regard to the unfair position in which men are placed who volunteered in the early days of the War. The position is that under Regulation 7 (1) of the Special Grants Committee, local committees are empowered to make allowances to soldiers' wives to meet contract obligations, but they are instructed to base their assessments upon the rate of wages prevailing on 1st January, 1916. The great rise in the value of labour and in wages has taken place since 1st January, 1918; therefore the man who did not volunteer but who waited until the Military Service Acts imposed Conscription upon him has his wages assessed at the rate prevailing at the time he joined up, possibly in 1918, by which time wages had gone up considerably. I have a calculation in my hand, with which I will not weary the House, but the result of which shows that a man who volunteered in 1914 is at a disadvantage of 5s. a week compared with the man who was conscripted in 1918. That is very rough on the men who jumped in and volunteered in the early part of the War, and who really, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for York said, jumped in and saved the country. There is one other point where patriotism seems to have been penalised, that is in the case of boys whose patriotic impulses led them in the early days of the War—this happened in regard to large numbers—to overstate their age and thereby secure enlistment. A great many of those boys, when their real age was found out, were discharged and were subsequently re-enlisted under the Military Service Acts at the age of eighteen. Those boys, or rather their parents, are penalised for their patriotism, because in 828 their cases the allowances are only calculated on the basis of their wages prior to the original enlistment. I submit that at that time they were boys only getting a small wage, that they left the Army, and that on re-enlistment they were young men getting young men's wages; therefore the calculation of their allowances should be based on the rate of wages they were earning upon re-enlistment and not upon their wages at the time of their original enlistment.
I am in substantial agreement with what all speakers have said to-day except in regard to one point, which I would not willingly have introduced into the Debate, but, as it has been introduced and as it to some extent touches me personally, I feel bound to refer to it. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) and the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. R. Macdonald) both saw fit to introduce into the Debate a denunciation of attempts which have been made to raise a voluntary fund to restart in life discharged soldiers and sailors who need some assistance. They both used the same phrase; they both said that that was a disgrace to the country, a disgrace to Members of this House, and a disgrace to the Government also. I need hardly say that it is no part of my duty to defend the Government or even to defend the Minister of Pensions, but, so far as I am concerned, as a humble Member of this House who has supported this movement, I should like to say that I hope when I die it may be put on my tombstone that the greatest disgrace which could be laid at my door is the disgrace that I was willing to do all I could to assist soldiers and sailors, wounded and discharged, who wanted to be restarted in life, but who had not available at the time of need any fund out of which such help could be given. I am willing to lie under that disgrace, if it be one. I am willing to do everything and anything I can to help discharged soldiers and sailors and their dependants. The Financial Secretary to the War Office will admit that I have been somewhat of a nuisance to him and other members of the Government for two or three years in urging the claims of the discharged men and of the soldiers and sailors, and of their dependants. Because I have been somewhat of a nuisance, I can speak with greater freedom. No one can point to my record in this House in connection with pensions or with the soldier and sailor and say, "This man is not a friend of the soldier and sailor." Therefore, speaking 829 as a tried and proved friend of the soldier and sailor, I say that I am perfectly willing to go forward with an attempt to meet an urgent need. I want to emphasise those words "an urgent need." Men were being discharged from the Army by thousands and they wanted some help to restart them in life.
Whatever may happen in the future, whatever the State may do—I am not inimical to the State doing what some people think it ought to do; I advocate the State bearing its full burden of responsibility—in the meantime, what about the men who are coming out of the Army every day, and who have been coming out for months, who wanted a little help to re-start them in life? Were we to say to them, "No; there is nothing for you until such time as perhaps a new Act of Parliament has been passed authorising some payment." The need was urgent, and so far from feeling that it is a disgrace, I feel proud that I was one of those who stepped into the breach and said, "I will contribute; I will ask others to contribute; I will help in any way I can to make that fund a success and useful to the discharged soldiers and sailors." The hon. Member (Mr. Hogge) said the men did not want charity. That is a very dangerous thing to say in a House like this. Charity is a horrible phrase to apply to a fund voluntarily raised by people who feel that their indebtedness to the soldier and the sailor is so great that they want to do more than is at the moment possible under an Act of Parliament. If we begin to use the word "charity" in such a sense, what about the Red Cross? What about the Young Men's Christian Association? What about the Church Army, and the thousand and one funds to which we are asked to subscribe every day and to which we subscribe gladly? It is a very dangerous and a mean thing to say to the soldier or sailor, "If you take any funds which are raised voluntarily you are taking charity." I am not sure it is not a wicked thing to do, and I hope and believe that the discharged soldiers and sailors and the bulk of the people of this country will resent any such suggestion. It has been said that soldiers and sailors do not want this. If they do not want these grants to re-start them in life and to go into small businesses, why are they applying for them at the rate of 1,500 or 2,000 a week? Who is the best judge? Some of my hon. Friends arrogate to themselves the position 830 of being judges. I am more democratic than they are. I say, leave it to the judgment of the discharged soldier and sailor as to whether he wants these grants or not, and as to whether he wants to set up in a small business of his own or to continue a paid servant of some other man for the rest of his life.
I think the hon. Member (Mr. Hogge) was rather vexed because I suggested, in an interruption, that he was rather involved in something that he said. Someone behind me said I was the only person in the House who thought that. I will not say the hon. Member was involved in his own mind, but he was rather prejudicing the case by introducing something which was totally irrelevant. His argument was that we in the House of Commons had already declared our objection to voluntary funds because we had protested against the use by the Government of certain voluntary funds which had been raised by the lord mayors of the country. I was one of those who protested at the time against that. We in Liverpool have raised a fund of something like £100,000—a local fund—what the hon. Member (Mr. Macdonald) would call a charitable fund. We wanted to keep that under our own control, and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer tried to get control of that money, more or less to commandeer it, and administer it as Government money. It was against that that we protested. But does anyone suggest that the present voluntary proposals include the commandeering of local funds against the will of the people who subscribe them? No one will claim that for a moment. If that is the case, if there is no suggestion of commandeering these local funds for the purpose of this voluntary fund administered by the Pensions Ministry, the hon. Member (Mr. Hogge) was involving in the question something which was totally irrelevant and endeavouring, I do not say intentionally, to prejudice the question by introducing this irrelevant matter. I will put down the questions for next Tuesday which will save the hon. Gentleman the trouble of replying on many technical and involved matters.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I should like to associate myself with all the criticisms of the proposed new scale which have been made. I think the hon. Member (Mr. Pennefather) has taken too much to heart the criticism offered by the hon. Member (Mr. 831 Hogge), in regard to the proposed voluntary funds for the assistance of discharged soldiers. I am certain he would not object to an inadequate State allowance being supplemented from voluntary sources. The State at present makes no provision for the particular kind of assistance which is proposed to be given by these voluntary funds. No time ought to be lost before the State itself discharges its obligation to these discharged and disabled men. Every speech that has been delivered in the Debate, with the exception of that of the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Butcher), whose purpose in speaking appeared to be unreservedly to congratulate the Government on the improved scale they have set forth, has offered criticism upon the same lines and has urged the hon. Gentleman in four different directions, first of all, that no change has been made in the allowance given to the childless wife, the very peculiar grading of the allowances in regard to the number of children, the case of the apprentice lad, and the date at which the new scale is to come into operation. It would be quite impossible to add anything to the cogency and the force of the arguments which have been advanced under each of these four heads. The hon. Member (Mr. Hogge) presented a family budget. I return to the point for the purpose of putting before the House some information which, I think, has far greater weight and authority than that which has been advanced by the hon. Member and other speakers. I do not know if hon. Members are acquainted with the most interesting, valuable, and useful publication issued by the Food Controller's Department, the title of which is "Food and How to Save it." The purpose of this document, which I am afraid is not written in very popular language, is to show people how they can spend their money most economically upon food, and how they can most economically cook it and eat it. In reading the pamphlet I was reminded of a publication which I have sometimes seen issued by the Food Reform Society and the vegetarian societies telling people how to live and grow fat on 3d. a day. There are given in this official publication specimen means for families large and small. On page 44 of the pamphlet there is a sample weekly menu for a family of six persons, and at the very lowest the cost of supplying the minimum amount of food necessary for keeping body and soul together 832 is given as 7s. 2d. per head per week. The hon. Member for York quoted from a statement in a report issued by the medical officer of health for the City of York that there was only 4s. 7d. a week left for food on the basis of the present separation allowances. The Government themselves in their official publications are teaching people to be economical, but when they have attained to the highest degree of economy they cannot possibly feed six persons at less than 7s. 2d. per head per week, which means 43s. a week for food alone for a family of six persons. In one of the specimen menus given in this publication issued by the Food Controllers' Department the average cost is 14s. per head per week for food. The cost of another menu which is for a family of four persons is 11s. 8d. per head per week.
How does the Government expect that a soldier's wife is going to secure the minimum amount of food which the Food Controller says is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of health, for the maintenance of herself and family, on the separation allowance, even on the improved scale? It cannot be done. According to this official document it will take the whole of the separation allowance to provide a family with food alone. In addition to that there are a hundred other household expenses; rent, clothing, etc. Everything with the exception of rent has increased considerably in cost during the last four years. I think the hon. Member for Leicester, when he was estimating the increase in the cost of living since the outbreak of the War, was much too modest. I find that milk is very strongly recommended in the dietaries of this official publication. A child must have at least 1½ pints of milk a day. That is 6d. a day, or 3s. 6d. a week, for milk alone. The publication says that a child over five must have at least one egg a day. Eggs are 5d. each to-day, and I was told by a poultry expert that they are likely to be 8d. before the end of this year. How far are these improved separation allowances going to go in order to provide this dietary which the Food Controller says is essential to the maintenance of mini mum efficiency? It cannot be done. There is no difference of opinion between Members of the House and the Government that the separation allowances ought to be sufficient to keep the family of the soldier in a fair state of physical efficiency. We are all agreed upon that. Therefore, 833 the simple question is, Will these allowances do it? These allowances, I have proved conclusively out of the mouth of the Government, are not sufficient to provide food alone, not taking into account the other necessaries of life.
With regard to apprentices, which is a subject in which I have taken a considerable amount of interest, I would like to raise points mainly for the purpose of gaining information. I am not quite clear as to how this concession in regard to separation allowances for apprentices is going to affect pensions. I can gain very little information upon that point from the terms of the answer which was given in regard to the new scale. There have been, I suppose, thousands, may be tens of thousands, of these apprenticeship cases. If every other hon. Member has received as many of these cases as I have, there must be tens of thousands of them. No pension has been given. I had this morning a report from the Ministry of Pensions upon a case which I have had before them since the beginning of this year—that of an apprentice lad who was killed at the age of sixteen. The reply I got this morning is the usual one, that the circumstances of the family are such that no grant can be made, but that if it should be necessary for them at any time to be saved from the workhouse by some small grant, an application must be made for that purpose. I want to know from the members of the Government whether anything is to be done in these cases, whether these people are to have their cases considered now, and whether a pension is to be given, to them? I want to emphasise a very important point made by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh in regard to these apprentice lads who would have become journeymen at eighteen and half or nineteen years and whose parents are to derive no benefit until the time when they would have been twenty-one years of age. The thing seems to me to be utterly indefensible, and I am quite sure when the hon. Gentleman rises to reply he will not attempt to defend it on any ground of logic and of justice.
In regard to the coming into operation of these allowances we are told that they are not to date until the 1st of October next, and they are not to be paid for a long time after the 1st of October next. A warning is given in the statement that it may be a very long time before all the cases have been dealt 834 with and the amount of the increased separation allowance has been determined. If it is a practicable thing to post-date the increased amount from the tune it is fixed, say next January or February, to the 1st October, it would be equally practicable to post-date it to the 1st July or the 1st January this year. These people have been suffering for the last two years from this great increase in the cost of living. I do not know how many of them have lived with prices at what they are now. I may read a letter from a woman in my Constituency who now, I suppose, will be an elector. It is a very short but most intelligent letter:Will you please explain to me whether the increased allowance means that no matter how many children you have the increase is only the same as for two? Do not you think, Sir, that the mother of a big family is more deserving of better treatment than she is receiving, and why have we to wait until 1st October for the increase considering how rates, coal, and every necessity of life has advanced?Remember that these women are going to vote at the next election. There are 26,000 of these new women voters on the new register in my Constituency. She continues:I can assure you, Sir, there is deep resent-a half or nineteen years and whose parents ances, and we mothers of big families feel that we are not being fairly treated. Many of us are already weary trying to make ends meet.3.0 P.M.
I feel that this increase for only two of the children is an insult. These women have been suffering for a long time because the cost of living became almost intolerable two years ago. It has continued to increase since. I repeat that I do not know how these women have made ends meet during that time. Why should they be put off now for three or four months longer? It cannot be justified. I am sorry that no member of the War Cabinet has considered this Debate sufficiently important to induce him to be present. There is no member of the Government for whom the House entertains a higher personal regard than for the Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Forster). But he is not in the War Cabinet, and could not, on his own responsibility this afternoon, commit the Government to a revision of this scale which we are now discussing. Only the War Cabinet can do that. The resentment in the country against the inadequacy of this scale is very great. I wish that the Government, when they had decided to deal with the matter, had been, I will not say generous, but merely just. I agree with what the hon. Member for 835 East Edinburgh has said. If we can get no satisfactory assurance from the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon that this scheme will be reconsidered it shall not rest there, and we will continue the agitation, because we have not only a just cause and an urgent one, but a cause which will have the sympathy of everyone who has any idea not only of what I may call the economic sacrifices and privations of these people, but of their sufferings, due to their anxiety with regard to those who are near and dear and who are constantly exposed to the dangers and hardships of the War.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Forster)
The criticism of the scheme for the increase of separation allowances proposed by the Government has circled round certain quite definite points, and the attention of this House has been called to these points with great cogency and clearness, and I am bound to say with great moderation, by all those who have addressed the Chair. Therefore, I propose to confine myself to the points that have been raised. I will refer first to the case of the dependants of the non-earning soldier, the case of the apprentice. It has been represented that the proposals of the Government are wholly inadequate and do not in any way meet the case. I admit at once that the problem with which we have to deal is one of great difficulty. We have to go into the realm of hypothesis, foregoing the clear atmosphere of fact. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the whole theory of dependants' allowances in the early days was based on the net contribution towards the family income made by the soldier before he enlisted. Obviously, in the case of the apprentice, the student, and the lad not in a position to earn wages owing to educational and other reasons, there was no possibility of contribution before he became a soldier. Therefore there was no possibility of giving any kind of dependant's allowance to his parents unless we abandon the basis of pre-enlistment contributions. That the Government have done. They have come to the conclusion that, in view of the great inequality of treatment given to the parents of the lad who volunteered early in the War and the parents of the lad who waited until he was fetched under the Military Service Act, we were no longer able to hold fast to the 836 theory of pre-enlistment contribution. Then we had to consider how best we might deal with the problem.
There were two courses open to us—either to establish a system of discretionary grants, entrusting the administration of it to local pensions committees which would inquire into the circumstances of each case, basing the amount of allowance upon what the soldier might reasonably have been expected to be able to contribute had he remained in civil life, or establishing a flat-rate allowance at a suitable rate. There were very great objections—I think great objections were raised in this House—and very great practical difficulty in the establishment of allowances such as I at first described, discretionary allowances locally administered, and the Government came to the conclusion that the best way of dealing with this difficulty was to establish a flat-rate allowance of 5s. a week. The rate has been criticised as being too low. I forget whether it was the Member for East Edinburgh or the Member for Leicester who said that practically in every case when lads have attained the age of twenty-one years they would be in a position to earn sufficient to secure the dependants' allowance at the maximum rate for their parents, but that if we fix the rate at 5s. it certainly would not meet the just demands of the parents whose lads were among the earlier enlisted soldiers. I must remind my hon. Friend and the House that we are going beyond the sphere of apprentices only. We are not dealing in this case with apprentices only, we are dealing with students and with other categories of men, many of whom, when they have reached the age of twenty-one, may not have been in a position to earn to the fullest possible extent. We have this further to remember, that we are extending this allowance to the parents of those who actually did make some contribution in the early days of the War. We naturally had to do that. Obviously, it would have been impossible to face a situation in which we gave to the parent of a soldier who made no contribution to the family income more than we allowed in respect of the soldier who paid a contribution at a very low rate. Therefore, this not only covers the case where no contribution is made, but involves bring the dependant's allowance, now 5s. a week, up to their level.
§ Mr. FORSTER
Because I take it that on the whole the conclusion we came to was that twenty-one was the age, taking all the categories, at which any man would be capable of earning wages. So much for the case of the apprentices. I come to the question of the wife. The hon. Member spoke of conscripting the husband, and then conscripting the wife by giving her an allowance at a rate which practically compels her to work. Does my hon. Friend really think that is true generally? Let us see. Remember that in the early days the varying separation allowance was established to maintain the home. Does not my hon. Friend realise that in a very large number of cases, where the soldier has married since the outbreak of the War, there is no home to maintain—that he has married a woman who was actually at work, and, to her honour be it said, has returned to work as soon as the soldier goes back to his military duty. There is a very wide difference between cases in that category and cases where the soldiers had established homes before the War, and others who, since the War, have left established homes. These are two totally different classes of cases. We all know there are immense numbers of wives of soldiers who of their own free will have gone back to work after marriage, and that is all to the good of the nation. Then again, there is the wife who has lived in her own home, the wife without children. Surely no one thinks that a strong, able-bodied woman, able to work, in times like these, ought not to work! I should like the House to see that she ought. There is, I believe, work for all of those who are strong and healthy and able to do it. The majority, thank God the majority of our women are sufficiently strong and sufficiently healthy to enable them to do work that is of real value. But there are instances where such is not the case. We all know the case of the delicate woman, the woman unable to work because of a variety of causes. If this system of scale allowance, to which my hon. Friend confines himself, stood alone, then I think there would be no doubt a case for doing something more. But the local pensions and special grants committee is empowered to deal with cases where the woman is not able to work for one reason or another.
§ Mr. FORSTER
Then we have got to see that they do do it. That may be an excellent reason for putting pressure upon the Government to see that these local pensions and special grants committees do perform their duties. But I submit it is not a reason for a wide and general extension in those instances where it is really not needed.
§ Mr. C. DUNCAN
Can the right hon. Gentleman's Department find out the cases of those who have already had the 2s. 6d. per week, and then he will ascertain the remedy.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Before we leave that point, will the right hon. Gentleman explain how the Government can bring pressure to bear upon these local pensions and special grants committees?
§ Mr. FORSTER
I was not speaking for my Department, I was speaking for the Government, and I do not think it is past the wit of man to give such elasticity to the Regulations as to enable this thing to be done. I refuse to believe that there is any widespread refusal on the part of the local pensions and special grants committees. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Really, my hon. Friends are not quite fair; they do not allow me to finish the sentence. What I was going to say was, I refuse to believe that there is any widespread desire on the part of the local pensions and grants committees to do other than go as far as they think the Regulations enable them to go. What has happened in some cases is that perhaps the local pensions and grants committees possibly took an unduly strict view of the powers with which they are clothed.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I think that is under the consideration of the Minister of Pensions, with whom the responsibility rests.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I quite appreciate the sympathy of my right hon. Friend, and he is in the same difficulty as we are. He is 839 responsible for the separation allowance made to the wives. The administration of the extra allowance is under a separate Department. We would be quite content if my right hon. Friend had the whole control in his own Department.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I am very much obliged for the kindly expressions of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh, but this is not a question of this person or that. It is a question of the intention of the Government in connection with this scheme of separation allowance, and I think we must judge of that alone. I come next to the question of the allowances for the children. We have been criticised because we have confined the increase in the amount of the children's allowances to the family of one or two, and hon. Members have commented on the fact that in the cases where the family exceeds three or more the allowance is no greater than in the case of the smaller family. When the question was discussed in this House before the appointment of the Committee practically the whole case made at that time was on behalf of women with one or two children. There seemed to be some sort of general agreement that the woman with three or four children was fairly well able to get along on the allowance. There was a very strong case made out by the hon. Member for Leicester on behalf of the woman with one or two children.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I hope my right hon. Friend will not misunderstand what I said on that occasion. I took the family of not more than two children as a type of family, but I did not mean to suggest that the grievance was only felt by the family of that size.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I think the hardship was greater in the case of the woman with one or two children than in the case where the number of children was larger. One hon. Member has commented to-day on the gradation of the allowance and on the various steps in the scale, so much for the first child, so much for the second, and then a flat rate for all subsequent children. But did not my hon. Friend realise that although we speak of the children's allowance it is really a convenient form of describing the household income, and that in the provision for the first child and to a certain extent for the second, lies some provision for the mother. Therefore, you have to judge the children's allowance in conjunction to 840 the allowance made for the mother, you must judge the whole as the family income, and it is not fair to say that as the woman with one or two children gets 4s. 6d. while she who has three or four children only gets the same amount extra for herself, therefore the latter is harshly treated. I do not think that the criticisms which have been made against this proposal have been fully justified. The hon. Member for Leicester said that what we really ought to do is to see that the separation allowances of to-day bear their true relation to the separation allowances established in 1914, keeping in mind the increased cost of living incurred in the meantime. He took that increase since the beginning of the War at 70 per cent. He admitted that that was on the low side, but he said he was content to take it, and then he went on to point out that if we look at the increases that have been made in the separation allowances since September, 1914, we shall find that the increase is not 70 per cent., but something below. What my hon. Friend I think overlooked is the fact that the increase of 70 per cent. in the cost of living is since the beginning of the War, and if we take the separation allowances at the beginning of the War we shall find that the increase in the case of a woman with children is more than 70 per cent. and in some cases practically 100 per cent.
§ Mr. FORSTER
We have gone on increasing the separation allowances step by step, and the admission of inadequacy was made after the War had begun. But even if we take the increases from the 30th September, 1914, when the revised separation allowances came in, we find that the increase of the allowances is practically all but, if not quite, the 70 per cent. which represents the increase in the cost of living. Therefore I do not think there is any great substance in the point which my hon. Friend made. We have been told that the amount of the separation allowance recently has been so insufficient as to cause great hardship to a large number of families. If that were the case, if it were generally true, one would have supposed there would have been a considerable allotment by the soldier to his family in order to remedy any hardship from which they may have been suffering. I do not think anyone is going to accuse the British soldier, on the 841 average, of being harsh or cruel or mean towards those who are dependent on him. With one or two exceptions where the percentage is higher I have been very much surprised to find how very few soldiers have made allotments to their families since the compulsory allotment was taken over by the State. It only amounts to something like 4 per cent. of the number involved, and I think that goes a very long way to dispose of the assertions that in a large number of cases families are suffering hardship.
§ Mr. FORSTER
What I am suggesting is, if it were true that their families are suffering hardship, they would have done it. In presenting the soldier with the compulsory allotment and increasing his pay we trebled the amount he had in his pocket, and if it had been necessary he would have been able to make a contribution towards his family. The fact that he has done so to a very limited extent goes far, I think, to disprove the idea that this grievance is widespread. It does exist in some cases—in the case of Leicester, for instance, where I find that the number of men who have increased their allotments is something more nearly 20 per cent., and that confirms the point made by the hon. Member for Leicester that in that neighbourhood, at any rate, there is special need for something extra being given. It also confirms the statement of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) that there is a disparity of treatment at the bands of the various local pensions committees. There is one consideration I wish to bring to the notice of the House. It is all very well to say that the scale of allowances is insufficient, but I want the House to bear in mind that that scale as it stands must be judged in its relations to rural populations as well as urban. If you judge of it in relation to the amount that the soldier is able to earn in civil life in the rural districts, I think you will find that there is no case for making a general increase in the scale allowance. The wages of the agricultural labourer have recently been fixed, by wages boards and other means, for the various counties, and they range from 27s. a week up to 33s. and possibly 35s.
§ Mr. FORSTER
Let us look at the amount that the family get when the soldier is absent and when he is fed and clothed and housed and found altogether free of expense to himself. Let us take, for instance, the case of a man with three children who is able to earn 30s. a week in civil employment. When he goes as a soldier his wife and family get 32s. 6d. under the revised scale, so that when the man is taken for a soldier and the cost of his maintenance is taken off the family income, the family income automatically not only gets what is saved by his becoming a soldier, but an addition of half-a-crown a week as well. That is a result that I think we ought to keep in mind, because when the man reverts to civil life and goes back to earn civil wages, when he has to find and feed and clothe himself as well as maintain his family, he will find he will have to do it out of a very heavily reduced income, and I am not at all sure that it is desirable—and I think the House has got to face this particular aspect of the question in all sincerity—to encourage a standard of living during the War which is at too high a level. Hon. Members may say that that is all right for the rural population, but that still as regards the great bulk of the urban population the scale of separation allowances, even as the Government have revised it, is insufficient. I do not think it is, but, again, I point out to the Committee that if there are cases in which there are special circumstances that call for special treatment, it is part of the Government's scheme—it is not charity—with money provided from public funds, that the local pension committee should be able to deal with those cases. I would only like to say, in conclusion, that the whole question of dealing with these separation allowances has been one of great difficulty, and I can assure the Committee that the Government have approached it with feelings of sympathy as well as with the feeling that it is essential to preserve in view the just claims of the taxpayer. It is never easy to refuse assistance to those whose claims can be so strongly and so justly represented and urged upon us. It is specially difficult, when all the sympathy of one's heart goes out to those who 843 day after day are carrying a load of anxiety in respect to those whom they love. But these things cannot be settled in accordance with our feelings of sympathy only, and we have got to bear in mind that we are trustees for the nation's purse, as well as sympathisers with those who are carrying this heavy load. We have to justify the expenditure which we have to call upon the country to undertake. We have endeavoured to take a reasonable, a sympathetic, and a dispassionate view of the situation as a whole, and I believe that our proposals are fair and equitable.