Sir MONTAGUE BARLOW
I beg to move, "That, in the interests alike of the State and of the wounded and discharged sailors and soldiers and their dependants, and of the widows and orphans of those who have fallen, it is essential that all questions relating to pensions and allowances should be kept free from party politics and the influence of party organisations."
This Motion deprecates the interference of politicians and political organisations in pension matters in the interests, first of all, of the wounded men and their dependants, and in the interests of the widows and orphans of those who have fallen. To me it seems little less than deplorable that the cause of the wounded men, a cause which, I am sure, we can agree to be sacred to all of us, should 334 run the risk of being exploited in the interests of party politicians. I hope we can also all agree on this, that nothing is too good for the men who are risking all, who are saving, and will save, this country, and, in my view, at any rate, nothing is too bad for the caucus monger, who thinks he can climb into a big position on the shoulders of maimed or disabled men. The Motion goes on to say that this interference is to be deprecated also in the interests of the public life of this country and of the State at large. It seems to me to be imperative that the corruption of public life, which is inevitable if pensions become a matter of political auction, should at all costs be avoided.
I should like to say a word as to how this Motion comes before the House. Some two years ago there was started in this House a voluntary committee, consisting of members of all parties who were interested in pensions. The work we had in view was, first of all, to consider pensions questions as they arose in this House, and to suggest improvements and reforms. I do not think it is too much to say it was due to the action of this committee, and in particular to the able and energetic effort of the hon. Member (Mr. Hogge), that a Pensions Minister was set up as an individual Minister of the Crown, and that the various pension adjusting and paying authorities were combined under that Minister. The second object we had in view was this: We desired to set up a bureau, or an office, where those who took an interest in the matter could get the various conundrums, which are propounded to us by our constituents, answered, or, at any rate, could get assistance towards answering them. In the spring of this year we received information that the Liberal party had themselves set up a Pensions Bureau somewhat on the same lines. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. McKinnon Wood) is the President, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wiles) is, I think, Treasurer, and the hon. Member (Mr. Hogge) is the hon. Secretary. Shortly afterwards we also received information that our senior official at the Parliamentary Pensions Bureau was resigning his work, and was to take up work with the Liberal Party Bureau. About the same time also there was a statement made in the public Press that the Labour party was taking somewhat similar action, and 335 this is what was said by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henderson), as reported on 25th January, that in conjunction with the Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress, the executive had decided that a National Joint Labour and Trades Congress Soldiers' Bureau should be established in London, and that he was to be the chairman of it. These two events having taken place, a meeting of our non-political bureau was held and a resolution was passed unanimously calling on the executive committee to approach the leaders of the various political parties, and to urge upon them that it was very desirable that the redress of pension grievances should not be organised on a political basis. We accordingly approached the Prime Minister and the Leader of this House, both of whom expressed themselves in accord with the resolution of the committee. We also approached the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith), who, we understood, was in general accord with us, although perhaps with some reservations. So far as the Leader of the Labour party was concerned, we had not the pleasure of seeing him, but we were informed that the matter was being considered by the committee of the party, and, for anything I know to the contrary, it is still being considered. But we did receive a communication from the right hon. Member for Barnard Castle, in which he said thatrepresentations were made to both the party committee and to the Labour Party Executive that members of our unions and other affiliated organisations who were discharged or disabled soldiers had no opportunity of obtaining advice and assistance from any organisation connected with our movement.And so a Labour pension bureau must be started. I am not quite clear as to the attitude of the trade union movement in the matter, because the official organ of the General Federation of Trade Unions at the same time issued a pronouncement in which they said:The much wiser plan would be for all the organisations who are seeking to hide their political aims under an altruistic cloak to go out of the business altogether and leave it to the State and public opinion.At a meeting of our bureau in March the Resolution which I am now moving was passed, and before it was placed on the Order Paper of the House we secured for it the signatures of 270 Members of all 336 parties, and a large additional number have since signified their adhesion; indeed, I am informed it is now backed by about 500 Members of this House. That being so, before I give the reasons for our action I want to say a word as to the terms of the Resolution. I do not want those terms to be misunderstood. In the first place, there is no attempt on the part of those who support the Resolution in any way to limit or restrict the inalienable right of any Member of this House to bring forward questions which affect his own constituents. No one could do that, even if they wished, and certainly we have no desire to do so. Secondly, no one desires in any way to interfere with the free right of discussion in this House with regard to policy in relation to pensions. The House will, I hope, always accord, not in any party spirit, but in the broad spirit it has shown in these discussions of the last four years, the fullest consideration to this very important, and oftentimes very difficult, question. Still less do we wish by the Resolution in any way to put a limit to the generosity of either this House or of the present or any succeeding Chancellor of the Exchequer. No money compensation, when all is said and done, can bear any sort of proportion to the risks run or the sufferings and losses incurred. No payment, however great, voted by this House can begin to discharge the obligation we are under to those who have been fighting, who are fighting now, and who will fight to the end the battles of this country. This is quite clear. The House will always give sympathetic consideration to proposals with regard to pensions when brought before it, and to discussions on the subject. That fullest consideration will be given, I believe, by members of all parties in one spirit, and one spirit only, and that is to try and secure at once the most generous and most equitable terms possible. I am satisfied, further, that every proposal that is brought up for increased expenditure by the Government, by the Pensions Minister, will always be cheerfully and readily voted by this House. But that is not, in my view, the danger. These broad questions of policy will always be discussed, and rightly so, here. But the difficulty and danger we have to deal with is in connection with administration, with details, with questions of granting or refusing pensions in individual cases, and it is somewhat significant 337 that these party pension bureaux have been set up to deal with actual details and actual cases—and not merely with broad questions of policy. I may be told that this is not so, and that their object is simply to give information—that they are not proposing to deal with details of that kind. It may be that that is so. I have no wish to misrepresent anybody. But I should like, if I may, to quote a very frank statement from a paper for which we all have the greatest regard, I mean the "Manchester Guardian," which, in a recent issue, stated the case with very great and almost cynical frankness. On the 15th May it said:The discussion should be an interesting one, but it will not be a practical one. The Liberal Pension Bureau, over which the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) presides, is a highly efficient organisation and it will go on. Either the Unionist and the Labour parties will have to imitate it, or the Liberal party will have this advantage to themselves. It is, one fears, too late to talk about pensions not being a party or political matter, and the party that tackles the question most efficiently in the interests of the beneficiaries may have a very strong pull in politics in the future. We may like it or not like it, but that is the reality.That, at any rate, is frank. [An HON. MEMBER: And true!"] I venture to hope it is not true. I trust that a practical issue will come out of this discussion. If it does not, then I think we are in for a very serious danger. Do not let us disguise that from ourselves. We are in for an era of considerable corruption in public life, and I mention this in the interests of Members themselves. I would like to be allowed to quote, if the House will indulge me, a few cases from American experience. But, further, the men themselves will suffer. I think a large number of the men and their dependants, through political pressure and otherwise, will get often more than their deserts, to the exasperation, I am afraid, and to the neglect of just and worthy cases who do not happen to have this political pull. That is, at any rate, my view. Let us assume for a moment that these party bureaux start perfectly honestly, as no doubt they intend to do, to give guidance and information. Assume that is so. I am willing to go this far with my hon. Friends and say there are a good many cases, unfortunately, of maladministration, of ineffectual and unsatisfactory administration with regard to pensions. Things are infinitely better now than formerly, and we owe a great deal to the Pensions Minister. But the system is not 338 yet perfect. So far as the party bureaux are concerned, they assert they will assist in getting matters put on a better footing in regard to individual cases, and I have no great quarrel with them on that ground, providing they stop there. But my point is that they cannot stop there, and that is why I am afraid I must join issue with the hon. Member for East Edinburgh. I hope he will treat this as a matter of general discussion. I want to try and make my point. Assuming that the bureaux are set up to give information, it is impossible for them to remain at that. Why? We will assume that cases are taken up by party agents, and, to use a slang phrase, results are secured, and in certain cases pensions are awarded where they had not been granted, or are increased. What is the result? Inevitably the machine will take credit for that; it is bound to do so, and just about the time of, or shortly before, an election notices will begin to appear in which credit is claimed for these cases in which pensions have been obtained or increased, and probably at the foot of the notice will appear something in the old form about "Vote for Jones, the soldiers' friend." That will inevitably be the result. Do not let us disguise that from our minds.
Let me carry the point a step further. An election is on. We will assume that the poison has eaten in; that the word has gone round that pensions and politics are to run in double harness. Political candidates are by nature anxious to please—in fact, it is part of their peculiar charm. Question time comes after a meeting, and the candidate is asked by a voice at the end of the crowded hall whether he is aware that the questioner has never had a proper pension, and will he promise the questioner, say, 30s. a week, or whatever it may be? The candidate has no time to go into the merits, and he does not know whether the man is entitled to 30s. or not, but he hears in a hurried whisper from a trusted source that the questioner is an influential person whose vote is uncertain, and he is tempted to make some sort of promise accordingly. Do not let us disguise these things from ourselves, for that is the kind of risk that is likely to occur.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have frequently pointed out to the hon. Member for East 339 Edinburgh that the proper way to conduct a debate is to listen to what the speaker has to say, and then reply to it intelligently later on, and not to carry on a running commentary. I invite the hon. Member to follow the ordinary course.
Sir M. BARLOW
I would like to refer to experience in America on these lines. We know that the pension administration and the whole system of pensions in America after the Civil War was unsatisfactory. I do not wish to put it much higher than that, but Americans themselves have put it very much higher. I am not going into the whole matter, for there are whole volumes about it, but one of the first things that was secured as a result of political action was that politicians succeeded in securing the payment of 25 dollars, or £5, paid by the Federal State authorities, to every agent who got a man's pension through. The result was the creation of a whole army of pension attorneys and doctors, and collecting agencies, and, of course, having secured the £5 bonus, they proceeded to do what they could to cajole additional funds out of the pockets of the pensioners themselves.
It is interesting to note that immediately the present War broke out, all parties at Washington came together and agreed that they would prevent similar mischief, not to use too strong a word, arising in this War. In October last an Act was passed, which is now the law, for veterans serving in this War, and under that law, in the first place, all the old Civil War pension laws are entirely inapplicable, and anybody fighting on the American side in this War cannot claim under the old Civil War pension arrangement. Secondly, the new law has two features with which we are quite familiar. There are allowances to wives, children, and dependants. Then there is what we call here a pension, but it was interesting to find during the discussion in Congress that the word "pension" has now become synonymous with charity, and they cut out pensions and called it compensation for death or cases of disability. Those two features we are quite familiar with, but the third feature was not to be what we should call a pension, but it was to be an insurance on a contributory basis. Of course, it is only fair to say that the 340 contribution paid by the man was very small, and the contribution paid by the State very large, but the emphasis comes on the fact of there being a contribution.
It was felt that by accepting the principle of contributory insurance, you would do a great deal to destroy the possibility of all that army of pension attorneys and pension doctors, and if a man was to be put on the pension register he would have had to have contributed something beforehand. I cannot say whether that is going to be a permanent arrangement or how it is going to work, but from this Act being passed, at any rate, two things are clear: First of all, that there was no very pronounced objection on the part of the troops who were then being raised, and who were being drilled in large camps; and, secondly, while the measure does seem a strong one to require a contribution from the men themselves, this is in itself some evidence of the strength of the feeling and the endeavour to try and cut adrift altogether from the old state of things under the old Civil War pension arrangements.
The evils that arose under the old pension arrangement were really quite ludicrous. There was a whole series of cases known as the "Bounty Jumping" cases. I should like to say here that the way the chief evil arose in the States was this. With us in this House it is a constitutional rule that no spending proposal or any Finance Bill can be introduced except by a Minister of the Crown, but in America any private member can introduce a Bill spending money on anything. When I was in the States, two years before the War, there were some 20,000 private pension Bills dealing with private cases introduced by various members of Congress and the Senate every year. That emphasises the point I have been endeavouring to make—that it is in the detailed cases, and not in questions of broad policy, that the real risk of corruption lies. With regard to the bounty jumping cases, what happened was that when President Lincoln instituted the draft—that is, modified Conscription—each separate State in the North had to furnish a definite quota. If that State could raise that quota by volunteers, well and good, but, if not, they had to resort to a ballot—that is, compulsion.
Many States, to avoid the odium of compulsion and the ballot, offered very high bounties, in some cases as much as 341 500 dollars or £100 for volunteers. There were a great many cases of men in one State taking the bounty, joining up for a month or two, and then deserting and repeating the same process in the neighbouring State. The desertions from the Northern Army in the course of the four years' war are said to have numbered 125,000. I do not think that anybody can say that these bounty jumpers, especially as hardly any of them ever went to the front, were particularly meritorious persons from a pension point of view, and yet in hundreds, if not thousands, of cases of these bounty jumpers special Bills were introduced owing to political pressure, and the men were awarded pensions by special Acts of Congress, although under the general pension law they were not allowed to have pensions at all.
Very much the same sort of thing happened, but in rather a different way, in regard to what were known as the "Broomstick" marriages. About the "eighties" the practice was introduced, and Congress agreed to accept Bills legalising any sort of native ceremonial for the marriages gone through by an Indian or a negro soldier, and they agreed to pay all arrears, with the result that a very lively business at once started in fitting, as the Americans describe it, the Chloes, the Dinahs and the Elizahs with husbands, who had been dead twenty or thirty years, in order that they might claim as awards pensions dating back to the period of the Civil War. This was done by what I have called special Acts of Congress, passed for particular cases. I do not think we shall ever get to that state of things here. For we can safely say this about English people, that they are substantially and fundamentally honest. We have this further safeguard: We have broad, general rules laid down in the Warrant for administering pensions on lines, generally speaking, of equality for all; but we must not forget that there is under the Warrant a very large discretion still possible. Ministerial discretion is allowed in cases on the border-line as to whether they are entitled to a pension or not, and in cases where attributability or non-attributability arises. There is also provision for an appeal, and there is a discretion when a man's permanent pension has been fixed as to whether it should be raised or lowered. Wherever there is discretion of this kind permitted there must be an opportunity of 342 political pressure, and it is because of that that I commend this Motion to the House.
We have been told by the "Manchester Guardian" that nothing can be done, but, really, is that so? I venture to think that there are possible remedies, but it is not my business to devise remedies. If this Resolution is carried, as I hope it will be, I dare say we can discuss that matter further. It might be possible to have Commissioners set up under the general jurisdiction of the Pensions Minister but independent of him; or there might be a strong standing Committee of all parties in the House, as was suggested in the morning papers only this morning, to which cases disallowed by local war pensions committees might be referred, and also cases brought up by Members of Parliament to the Pensions Minister. I do not wish to be pinned down to the actual scheme. I have worked out roughly a scheme in my own mind, but I do not think we have to deal at this moment with any scheme of that kind. We have to consider "aye" or "no," if there is a serious danger ahead. We have to consider "aye" or "no." Assuming there is a danger, is there any possible means of dealing with it? I think both those questions should be answered in the affirmative. There is a strong feeling in this House that pensions must not become a pure matter of political football, and I urge most solemnly on the House that this is a very serious question, not only for the future of the public life of this country, but a very serious question in the interests of the men, the dependants, the widows, and the orphans themselves.
§ Sir GEORGE TOULMIN
I desire to second this Resolution, not necessarily for reasons identical with those which have influenced my hon. Friend opposite, but from an entirely independent standpoint. I hope to derive assistance from this House, and I ask hon. Members to consider the Resolution as something more than a pious opinion. The Resolution is really a challenge to the House to face the danger which must, I think, be recognised on all hands, and I appeal to the House for guidance in these very difficult circumstances. The honour of the nation is involved in the way in which it treats this question of the dependants of our soldiers, and our wounded soldiers themselves, and I think we ought to take every wise counsel we can to avoid that subject 343 falling into the arena of party conflict. It is far above all personalities of fending and proving, as we say in the North. The problem of the widow, the orphan, and the incapacitated is huger than any of us ever dreamed that it would be, and it is growing day by day and week by week. The last thing that we desire by this Resolution is to check efforts to meet all the hard cases. Indeed, I have the strongest feeling that the safest path is to meet every reasonable claim fully and fairly, and to act with generous readiness, not encouraging agitation by refusal to meet or delay in meeting all reasonable claims. Think of the time spent and of the attacks made, met, and repulsed and renewed and eventually successful involved in the words "attributable to" and "aggravated by"! If that had been recognised earlier, a great deal of a very injurious controversy and very many cases which have caused great unrest in the country would have been avoided.
The Notice Paper has teemed with questions enforcing points which have only been conceded after many days. When we have obtained some concession, even up to the present moment, there has always seemed to be an advocatus diaboli to put in some little Clause to deprive the concession of a great deal of its usefulness. I do not know that I should like to say the party to which he belongs. I am rather inclined to think that he has a permanent position on the Treasury Bench, whoever may be his neighbour. Take, as an instance, the question of foster-mothers. One of the Regulations says that for a foster-mother to become entitled to a pension in respect of her foster-child she must have maintained him out of her own money. I have a case within my own knowledge where a foster-mother adopted a child of ten months old, and twenty years of motherly care and attention are to go for nothing. She happened to be able to prove that she went to work for one or two years and, therefore, she has just scraped within the limits of the Regulation and becomes entitled to a pension, but no account is taken of her mothering. There is another matter where delay is causing very strong feeling, and that is the condition in which some of the wives and families are left owing to the amount of their allowance. I have here a letter from the wife of a soldier which I am afraid I could not read without exhibiting too much emotion, owing to the condition 344 to which she and her sick children are reduced by the amount of the allowance which they receive. To leave these subjects undealt with is to invite agitation, and, if there is no other result, I hope that this Debate will stimulate the Pensions Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to prompt action.
I do not think that such things as the training of disabled soldiers or the treatment of consumptives or orphans should be involved in party influences or become subjects of party controversy. They are the concern of the whole House, and it is for the House as a whole to devise a system which will avoid possible evils. In demanding that we are not seeking to lessen the individual action of Members of Parliament, and least of all are we seeking delay but rather the forwarding of recommendations of all just claims. The worst possible injury that could be done to political life would be that these things should become the subjects of party auction. As a Liberal, I feel very free indeed to say that, for there happens to be no Liberal either at the Treasury or in the Pensions Ministry. Personally, I do not wish to make any party capital out of the blunders that have been made nor do I think that there ought to be any party credit taken for the successes achieved. It is the House which has been generous and not any particular individual, and it is for this House, this present sitting House of Commons, and not the next House of Commons, to secure the soundest possible basis for determining the State's liability and the best possible machinery for securing effective and prompt working. The only way to prevent agitation is to prevent grievances. They cannot then be exploited by loquacious Codlings and Shorts perambulating the country as rivals in connection with pensions. It is perhaps the most difficult internal task that the House has to face. There has been some progress made. The combination of local committees and Government administration has resulted in much good work, but it is the local committees that discover the grievances and the Government that makes cast-iron regulations. The Treasury cannot possibly give the local committees a free hand. The liability is entirely national, and you cannot adopt the device of giving the local committees a free hand on condition that they contribute a portion of the funds. Local finance cannot be joined. I put charity entirely aside. It is not for this 345 House to exploit charity in this matter, nor can the Treasury liability be arbitrarily limited. The Treasury cannot say, "Here is £50,000,000 a year. The local committees may divide it as they like." Whilst our hearts are all most sympathetically inclined towards our soldiers and their families, I think our heads must sympathise very considerably with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the difficulty in which he is placed.
The problem, however, is there. How are grievances to be avoided without being brought into the party arena? The difficulty is to reconcile Regulations with discretion in all border-line cases. What amount of appeal is there to be? It has been suggested that there should be some strong semi-judicial appeal committee, and, if we can get it into the minds of all these men that they are fully heard and that full justice is done, then we shall avoid the grievances which now exist. There is another class of case. A decision may be made where the case is not within the Regulations. We all have such cases. The Ministry of Pensions are at present considering one which I have sent them. Then we require somebody with sufficient authority to make recommendations to the Government and to press their opinion, and I cannot see that we can appeal anywhere except to this House. It is wise for us to consider whether we cannot improve on the present position. I suggest a committee of this House chosen on non-party lines or on all-party lines to consider grievances. It would draw its support from this House and have the responsibility which the finding of the money involves. This House must face the responsibility and give its attention to the best method of undertaking it. Most of the sentiments of the Amendment which my hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge) is to propose regarding the duty of individual Members can be accepted by anyone. Every man in this House ought to use his "influence and power to secure not only an adequate scale of pensions, but the prompt and efficient administration of the same, and all attempts to render to those who have made great sacrifices for their country such information and guidance as will enable them to claim and receive from the Ministry of Pensions, either direct or through local war pension committees, their full and just rights" should receive warm approval. Of course, no one can limit the duties and activities of Members in respect to their Constituents, but that 346 is very different from any definite party propaganda in this connection. The object of this Motion is to secure the sanction of the House in favour of the removal of this great national duty, as far as possible, from the party arena It is not want of sympathy with the wounded or with the widows which prompts the raising of this Debate nor any desire to restrict the aid and sympathy extended to those whose patriotism has left them dependent upon our care. The record of those whose names, with mine, appear upon the Paper will exonerate them from any such imputation. I do desire the attention of the House and the counsel of the House with regard to this matter, and I make an appeal for a helpful Debate on the part of this great Assembly.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I beg to move to leave out the words "all questions relating to Pensions and Allowances should be kept free from party politics and the influence of party organisations," and to insert instead thereof the words "all political parties use their influence and power to secure not only an adequate scale of pensions, but the prompt and efficient administration of the same, and that all attempts to render to those who have made great sacrifices for their country such information and guidance as will enable them to claim and receive from the Ministry of Pensions, either direct or through local war pension committees, their full and just rights should receive the warm approval of the House."
I have been waiting all the afternoon to hear what is the case in favour of the Motion upon the Paper, and I confess, after an hour's Debate, that I am still without any evidence that it is necessary. The speech of my hon. Friend who has just sat down (Sir G. Toulmin) was one in favour of my Amendment, stating explicitly some arguments which I shall not require to repeat as to the inadequacy of the pension warrants and the lack of prompt and efficient administration. I take it my hon. Friend will vote with me in the Lobby in favour of my Amendment, and will abandon the lost cause for which his name stands upon the Paper. There is a history, which has been referred to, in regard to this matter. The hon. Member for Salford (Sir M. Barlow) who opened this Debate, was good enough to say that I had taken a large part in what had been accomplished in the domain of pensions. That is probably true, because as a matter 347 of fact the Government have thought so little of any abilities that I possess that they have not asked me to do anything that might help the War forward, and I have devoted my time to looking after the interests of those men and the dependants of those men whom all of us in this House helped to recruit into the Army. It was, as a matter of fact, my idea that the Members of this House should free themselves from all outside criticism by forming a non-party committee in the House which would look after the interests of all our constituents who might not be receiving justice or right under the administration of pensions.
I remained honorary secretary of that committee for one whole year. I understand now why I remained the honorary secretary for one whole year, because the present chairman of that committee says openly in the House this afternoon I had done so much on behalf of pensions that they were obviously glad to have the use of my services. Therefore, I am the more astonished, after the testimonial I have received from my hon. Friend, and that, in absence from this House and without giving me any notice, I was removed from the honorary secretaryship of this committee, of which my hon. Friend is the chairman. That does seem extraordinary, if I did possess the abilities with which he credits me, and if I did start this committee—as a matter of fact I did; that is beyond all dispute—after a year's work given to the committee, and after having provided the committee with the one man who could carry on the work of that committee. Incidentally, the hon. Member referred to the fact that the secretary of the bureau left the committee when I left it, as if that were a grievance. The story of that is quite simple. When the Parliamentary Pensions Bureau was started, there were very few who knew anything at all about pensions. In order that the Parliamentary Pensions Bureau should be a great success, I voluntarily surrendered the services of my own private secretary, who had devoted months of his time and labour to getting up this question. Obviously when I left, or rather did not leave, but when I was given my cachet, my discharge as a disabled man from the Parliamentary Pensions Bureau, it was ridiculous that my hon. Friend should expect that my own private secretary would remain to carry on the work. That is a 348 little bit of personal history which I am sorry to have to introduce, but it is quite as well that the House should know the facts.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I should like to know what the hon. Member disputes at the present moment with regard to any of these points of fact. My hon. Friend opened this Debate, and if there were any facts he wanted the House to know, presumably he would have given them to the House. He says that the House has not yet got the facts. I suggest that the next time this Committee opens a Debate it should choose some speaker who can give the House the facts, in order that we may discuss the question at issue. To come a little closer to the history of this peculiar Resolution, it is rather curious that it has only been discovered since the creation of what is called the Liberal War Pensions Bureau that there is anything political at all in interesting yourself in pensions. Take the creation of the Ministry of Pensions. It is an absolute fact, again, and a well-known and ascertained fact, that one party in this House—the Labour party—in making an arrangement with the present Prime Minister, insisted that the Ministry of Pensions should be given to that party and to no other party in this House. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is that true?"] It is true!
§ Mr. HOGGE
When I was asked to be Under-Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and refused to my right hon. Friend, 349 who is now listening, on the ground they had no right, as a Government, to hand it over to one party, my right hon. Friend told me that because I refused I would receive no further political promotion.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I deny every word of that statement. The hon. Member spoke to me behind this bench, and his case was that he was a far better man to deal with the matter. I put it to him that I thought, however good he was, he might have a little patience. There was not a word that passed between us on the lines that there had to be a Labour Minister.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Statements of that kind should not be made unless they are accurate. I deny every word of it. I should like to have that proved.
§ Mr. HOGGE
My right hon. Friend shall be furnished with the proof. The proof is that there was present at the conversation which took place between myself and the emissary of the Prime Minister another hon. Member of this House, who heard the whole of the conversation and who can give evidence, if the right hon. Gentleman likes, on oath.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am dealing with what concerns me for the moment. This is a charge made against me. I say there is not a word of truth in it.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I repeat that my right hon. Friend did say that to me, and I can recall to his mind a further conversation in which he said this and the exact place and circumstances, and who received the appointment as a result of what I said. I am quite prepared at any time to prove that right up to the hilt. But lest it rest there. [An HON. MEMBER: "You cannot!"] Well, I am not the least unwilling that it should rest anywhere else. My right hon. Friend gets up and flatly denies what I have said. My recollection is as keen and as good as his. He cannot, to put it in another way, produce anybody to say that he did not say that. Let that be the point. The point I was making was that the Labour party in this House, in the arrangement made with the present Prime Minister, claimed the Ministry of Pensions 350 as their specific right. That is an undeniable fact. I am not saying for the moment that the Labour party, which is divided in this House, would seek to make any political use of pensions, but, if allegations are going to be made about other people, it is well to bear that in mind. Further, we must never forget that before even the Liberal War Pensions Bureau was started, before ever the Labour Party's Bureau was started, there was started the British Workers' League, of which the Minister of Pensions was, and is still, the honorary president. In connection with that league there is a Soldiers' Fellowship. Members of that organisation have gone about addressing meetings in all parts of the country, stating at street corners and at meetings that they were able to deal with the cases of discharged men, and that they were able to deal with them very much better than anybody else, because their honorary president was also Minister of Pensions. As a matter of fact, for many months cases of appeal, which the hon. Baronet the hon. Member for South Salford accuses other people of sending to the Ministry of Pensions for redress, went from the British Workers' League, of which the Minister of Pensions is honorary president, to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Hodge), who is Minister of Pensions, in order that they should receive redress. It was not until the Liberal party started a small organisation to give advice and guidance to their own constituents and to the people who apply to that office that the Leader of the House and the Minister of Pensions and all the rest of the Coalition and conglomerate Ministry discovered that this was an attempt to prostitute pensions to political purposes.
I have never heard a Motion put forward in this House with less substance and fewer arguments than that which has been put forward to-day by the hon. Member for South Salford. To begin with, he has not told us—we might as well not mince matters; the attack is levelled at the Liberal War Pensions Bureau—of any single instance in which the Liberal War Pensions Bureau has done anything to use the administration or the award of pensions for any political purpose. He has not suggested a single case, he has not produced a tittle of evidence. [An HON. MEMBER: "He was going to do so!"] If he was 351 going to do it, why did he not do it in his speech? Why did not the Seconder of the Resolution tell us what is the gravamen of the charge against the Liberal War Pensions Bureau? If the Liberal War Pensions Bureau has been guilty of abuse in the matter, there is the Minister of Pensions on the Treasury Bench. Let him give chapter and verse for any action or instance in which this bureau has abused any single privilege which might otherwise attach to it! I remember that after I was discharged from the Parliamentary Pensions Committee that I did not leave the membership of that committee. My hon. Friend who moved this Resolution, and the hon. Gentleman who seconded it, will remember that in the Parliamentary Pensions Committee we had a discussion as to what ought to take place as a result of the use to which pensions, award or administration might be put for political purposes. I made the suggestion—it is useful to bear this in mind—that there was no reason at al why a non-political or Parliamentary Committee should not meet from time to time to discuss and agree on decisions on questions of policy in regard to pensions, and to put those decisions to the House of Commons for their acceptance, leaving to the Labour party, to the Liberal party, and to the Tory party—if they had the ability to start it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]—Yes, if they had the ability to start it—the provision of guidance and information to their constituents inside the pension Warrant. That was leaving the machinery of information to the parties if they wanted to do it, but leaving the question of policy to the Members of this House, discussing it in common. That was unanimously turned down by this so-called non-political Parliamentary Pensions Bureau, which consists of less than 25 per cent. of the Members of this House, which imposes certain restrictions upon Members of this House becoming members of that committee, and which seeks to dictate policy to this House.
§ 5.0 P.M.
Sir M. BARLOW
The hon. Member over and over again has put forward statements which I cannot allow to pass. I suppose, on the Amendment, I shall have another opportunity to answer what he has said?
§ Mr. HOGGE
I do not understand the hon. Member. He gets up and says that I have said something wrong, and he wants the opportunity on the Amendment to disprove these questions of fact. I hope be will get it. It would be rather interesting. But it is a fact, nevertheless, that the honorary treasurers are in the House at this moment, and they know what I am stating is true—that there is no subscription to the group, but there is a subscription to the bureau.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Then that only shows that the hon. secretaryship has fallen into bad hands since I left it. As long as I was secretary the hon. Member was invited. However, putting aside all these personal points, which I am sorry have 353 been mentioned, but, having been introduced by the Mover of the Motion, have to be replied to, my Amendment goes on to something of much more importance, with which I hope the House will deal, namely, the inadequacy of the pensions and the prompt and efficient administration of the same. We have had within two years three Pension Ministers, one White Paper, and two Warrants dealing with the question of pensions. It is true to say that this question is still very far from being settled. I propose to give the House one or two samples as to the way in which these pension Warrants are still in embryo. The first of these is one which has always occurred to me as an illustration of the stupidity of the scheme under which pensions are administered. To-day, if a disabled soldier is discharged and is in receipt of a pension, he is entitled as a matter of fact to a corresponding pension for his dependants—that is to say, he may have a pension for his children and that pension is proportionate to the amount awarded him in the first instance. On the other hand, if a soldier is discharged disabled, and he has dependants other than children in respect of whom there has been separation allowance, then he is not entitled to a pension for those dependants. That is a monstrous thing. Take the simple case to-day of the boy of a widowed mother. While he is in the Army his widowed mother can draw separation allowance for him. If he is wounded and discharged from the Army his widowed mother cannot draw any pension corresponding to the pension awarded him; whereas if he had been a married man with three children, he could draw for those children while in the Army, and subsequently what he is entitled to. There is a case where the pension Warrant is at the moment still extremely inadequate.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We seem to be getting into irrelevancies. We are not discussing the merits or the demerits of certain pensions. What we are discussing is the in-advisability of the administration of pensions being influenced by party politics.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member's Amendment clearly does not go outside the Motion that has been proposed.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
So far as it deals with the topics mentioned by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion, certainly.
§ Mr. HOGGE
On that point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I do not, of course, want to do other than obey your ruling, which I always try to do; but what I want to raise on my Amendment, in addition to what I have already put, is this, that instead of the pensions and allowances being kept free from party politics it is the duty of the various parties in the State to use their influence to get the pensions made adequate. I was trying to show by the one example I have quoted that the kind of work that the political parties could do, both inside and outside this House, is the making of the Warrant more adequate to the needs and conditions of the men and their dependants.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The general proposition which the hon. Member lays down is perfectly in order, that all political parties should unite in endeavouring to obtain the best pensions and allowances for discharged and disabled soldiers and their dependants. When, however, the hon. Member goes beyond that and says, "Now I will give you a case where if I were the Pensions Minister I would add this or that to the Warrant," I think he is going beyond the limit of discussion. I trust I have made myself clear. The general proposition the hon. Member seeks to lay down, as I have said, is quite correct, and relevant to the Motion, but I deprecate, and I shall have to rule out, any proposals to inquire into the merits or demerits, or the failure of any particular Warrant, or of any policy not approved by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I appreciate that ruling, Sir, and I do not mean to criticise the existing Warrant. I was only proposing to show by means of a great many particulars—which I can now leave out—how at the present time this provision made by the House of Commons is totally inadequate, and I wanted to deal with the question of how to help to promote efficient administration. However, I am quite willing to accept your ruling, and to leave the thing at the one example I have given, which is only one out of twenty or thirty that anybody who understands this problem can give by way of illustrating the inadequacy of the present 355 Warrant. I will deal with the question of administration. If I may be allowed to say so, on the question of administration I think surely it is the duty of all parties in the House of Commons to keep the Pensions Minister up to the scratch. As a matter of fact, the present Pensions Minister, with characteristic bluffness, has invited people actually—I am quoting his own words—to kick him, in order that he may, I suppose, kick the officials inside the Ministry. But surely one of the only ways in which you can discover whether or not the administration is prompt and efficient is by getting that information at first-hand from those who are concerned. What do we find in regard to administration to-day? I will only quote one instance, so that I hope I will not trespass on a point of Order, and I will not elaborate the point, but I would remind the House of this one fact alone, that in the Soldiers' Awards Department at Chelsea there are 2,000 clerks, and they are dealing with 12,000 cases per week, the bulk of which are new cases. That is, one clerk is dealing with one case each single day at Chelsea. That is a question of administration. Yet, if the rules of this Debate permitted it, I could show that cases have taken as long as twelve to thirteen months to get settled by the Pensions Ministry. If the Pensions Minister, or this House, thinks for one moment that the public opinion of the discharged and disabled men, of the widows and dependants of these men, is going to stand that for any length of time despite your Tory, despite your Liberal, despite your Labour men—well, this House is wrong, and the Pensions Minister is wrong! There has been a lot of talk this afternoon about the intervention of parties in this question of pensions. No party can go to the polls at the next election without a programme which will embrace a programme of the discharged men. Every party will have its own programme for that purpose. It is surely futile for this House of Commons, which has a mandate from nobody, which is going on after this Debate is concluded to prolong its own life for another six months, after having given 288 of its own Members all kinds of decorations——
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is all very well, but I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is introducing many irrelevancies.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Well, I hope I will be able to finish my speech with fewer 356 irrelevancies, Mr. Speaker. We are, I say, going on after this Debate to the prolongation of our own life, and at the same time we are going to achieve what by passing this Resolution here this afternoon, saying that it is inadvisable that parties should use pensions for political purposes? We think, I say, that that is going to stop the opinion outside of the people concerned! It is madness to think so! What right have we, who are the elected representatives of the people who matter, to say that these people shall not take their own methods of getting to know their own rights in respect to the Pensions Warrant? It is a monstrous doctrine! It is a doctrine which is promulgated by no other Department serving the Government at the present time. I know no Department of the Government which refuses to give any information to any Member in regard to any of his constituents. If you admit, as the hon. Member who raised this Debate admitted at once, that he does not seek to interfere with the inalienable right of a Member of Parliament to deal with his constituents, what right have you to go further and say that you will interfere with the right of those Members when, for their own convenience, they make an arrangement by which their business will be brought forward in an orderly fashion by themselves? If forty, or 100, or 150 Members of this House care to band themselves together and say on this question, "Our cases will be dealt with by an arrangement for which we will be responsible if those cases are the cases of our own constituents," who is going to say that that is not the right, the prerogative, and the privilege of hon. Members of this House, and who is going to stop it? What earthly sense is there in this House passing a pious Resolution which it cannot put into operation, which it has no right to put into operation, upon which its opinion is not worth the paper on which the Resolution is printed, and which is not a Resolution at all in fulfilment of the body of opinion of the people concerned? These people, whatever parties remain in this State, are determined themselves to see that they get their rights, if not from this House of Commons, from the next House of Commons. I beg to move.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
I beg to second the Amendment.
I have no desire to enter into the quarrel between my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and the hon. Member for East 357 Edinburgh, or into the disputes between the late committee and the present. All I say is that looking at the facts and the history of the matter, there is no man in this House or outside it to whom the Members and the public are more indebted than the hon. Member for East Edinburgh, who mastered this subject long before a Pensions Minister was appointed and to whom everybody throughout the country, as in this House, referred, before they could understand any part of this scheme. I never knew there was any objection taken to people receiving information from him, and if you ask my opinion upon the subject, I say that his removal from his position on that committee was one of the shabbiest transactions I have ever known in this House, and I have known a great many.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
He was removed from the secretaryship. No one denies that, and I say it is a shame—does anyone deny that? So far as the Resolution is concerned, I think it would be very much better if there was something in it. So far as I can see there is nothing in it. As my hon. Friend said, you cannot prevent these discharged soldiers and sailors making a political point of it if they wish to, as they will, but with regard to the point he makes as to the administration of pensions, I am bound to say that I have found the greatest courtesy from the present Pensions Minister, who has dealt with every case I have submitted to him. They have not been many, but he was reasonable throughout. I have known cases, however, where five months elapsed before a wretched 5s. is paid to a dependant, and there is no doubt there has been great delay in many cases. I do not say it is attributable to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions. It is probably due to that enormous staff which we get up for all these new Departments, with the result that what is everybody's business is nobody's business. It is in that direction that I wish to support this Amendment as being a reasonable Amendment and as pointing to something which we want done, which ought to be done, and which will have to be done, for the country will see that it is done. It may be neglected and a great deal of ill-feeling aroused throughout the country, but if you are going to give pensions reasonably and generously, above 358 all they ought to Be given quickly, so that no time is allowed to elapse between the creation of the right to the pension and the payment of the pension, because that is where the trouble begins and where the discontent is caused.
§ Sir H. P. HARRIS
It seems to me that the Amendment is either an evasion of the point at issue or else a declaration, naked and unashamed, against keeping the pension administration free from party politics. The action of my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh, who, unfortunately as I think, ceased to be hon. secretary of the pensions group, has been quite inconsistent with the public spirited action he took before he ceased to hold that position. As he himself has said, he was largely instrumental in forming the pensions group in this House on non-party, all-party lines, a powerful group and one which I think has achieved a great deal, largely under his leadership. But why was that old party group formed? It was formed for the very object which is stated in the Amendment, in order that all political parties use their influence and power to secure not only an adequate scale of pensions, but a proper and efficient administration of the same. That was the object for which it was formed. But my hon. Friend has changed his policy. His policy now is that parties should use their influence, not in combination, not in unity, but separately and on party lines through party bureaux. That is to be his policy now.
§ Sir H. P. HARRIS
No; but surely that is the effect, surely it means throwing the pension system into the vortex of party politics. Is that necessary? Has any reason been given for it except the unfortunate circumstance that my hon. Friend has ceased to be hon. secretary of the pensions group. Has the plan of working on non-party lines been a failure? I think it has been a success, that it has been able to achieve a great deal, and that nothing has been shown to justify your proceeding on separatist rather than on united lines. Surely we want to get on the bedrock principle in this matter. What is the bedrock principle? We are all agreed upon this, that there ought to be equal treatment, equal justice to all disabled men in proportion to their disability, and equal treatment for the families and dependants of those who have fallen. Anything 359 like favouritism is, I am sure, an idea of horror to us all, and the worst kind of favouritism is that which is due to political bias, or a desire for political gain—both insidious things. We are all conscious of each other's infirmities in that respect, and if they once creep into the great pension system which the War has compelled us to set up, they will not be at all easy to eradicate.
The argument that one party when in power has done this or that will be considered a respectable argument against another party, when in power, doing the same thing. Already that type of argument is being used. We hear the Liberal party sets up a party bureau because the Labour party has one, and the Conservative party will, no doubt, set one up if we have the brains to do it. I venture to think that if we are to maintain the principle upon which we are all agreed, then we have to ask the political organisations to use some discretion in this matter and to keep their hands off pensions administration. When I say that, I do not mean that the party organisations, central and local, may not have to discuss great questions relating to pensions, especially if differences of opinion arise and party differences of opinion arise. I hope devoutly they will not, though if we follow the policy of my hon. Friend we are going straight for it. I think they ought to keep their hands off dealing with cases in the constituencies; the political organisations ought not to hold themselves out as agents for getting people pensions. However good their intentions may be when they start on that business, rivalry is sure to arise between what are, after all, rival organisations in the constituencies, and we shall hear that the party agent in a political constituency is very clever in getting people pensions, or that he has the ministerial ear more than others. And so the merry game will go on.
There really is no need for the party organisations intervening in this matter; the pensions committees are the proper bodies to deal with it. I quite agree that the local committees have not at present reached the necessary standard of efficiency, nowhere perhaps, and certainly in many places they fall below the desirable standard, but they at any rate have one sole motive in view, and I do not think that could be said of political organisations. The sole motive of the 360 pensions committees is to do the very-best for their clients, and the remedy for their shortcomings is not to call in the political organisations, but to improve them, and to make them as efficient as possible. The local committees have had a very difficult task to perform. The pension system, since it was set up, has gone through one great revolution, and ever since the administration has to a large extent been in a process of flux, or perhaps I should say evolution, with the result that there has been a great deal of confusion in the minds of the people interested, the people who want these pensions, or what they are entitled to.
A great many mistakes have been made both by the local committees and also by the central organisations, and these have resulted in a large addition of the post-bags of Members of Parliament, who have found themselves confronted with conundrums which even experts have found it very difficult to solve. But I want to point out that there is this non-party bureau in existence which Members of Parliament can use, and that the pension system is now beginning to take its final form, though I quite agree it will need improvements. The work of the pensions administration, whether in localities or in the centre, will now proceed with increasing accuracy and regularity, and the right policy, I maintain, is to improve the official organisation, and not to hand it over in any way to political bodies. Much has been done to improve the official organisation. The local committees, for example, have been reinforced by adding to them representative men and women, and if the localities do not give the men what they are entitled to we shall soon hear about it. Then, when the pressure of the War is over, it will be possible to have the services of many citizens whose energies are now absorbed by war work. The Ministry is putting its house in order, and we may rely on the Central Department working with more ease and regularity. I must confess that I look forward with some doubt as to what is going to happen when the War is over and when party Government once more assumes sway. We have now a Labour Minister, we have a Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions who is a Conservative, and we have a Coalition Government, but the time, I suppose, will come when the Ministry of Pensions will become the preserve of, or, if that is too strong an expression, will pass 361 under the control of a Minister and a Government all of one colour. I do wish some policy could be discovered by which the Ministry could be thrown open to some extent to all parties, and that some machinery might be devised by which the Ministry could come under the observation of all parties, in order that we might at all times be assured that it was being administered without fear or favour on national lines, and without the influence of party. Therefore, I welcome the suggestion that has been made that some Committee should be set up which would bring that about. I doubt whether public opinion will like our slipping back after the War into a state of things when a Government Department, as it seems to me, is completely withdrawn from the observations of the elected representatives of the people. However that may be, I think the Pensions Ministry stands in a special category, and ought to have associated with it a Committee of members of all parties, who can inform themselves as to the administration, and make reports and recommendations to the Ministry and to this House. I think in that way we should have a really national Department. I do hope that whatever we do we will not follow the advice of my hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge), and I hope that sooner or later he will repent of it himself.
§ Sir NORTON GRIFFITHS
I should like to say how much I support the suggestions of my hon. Friend who has just spoken. So far as I understand the position, the Mover of the Resolution desires to put the cap on any party political move with regard to the administration of pensions, or, in other words, to prevent the men who have served their country in the trenches being used for the benefit of the party machine. The object of the Amendment which has been moved is, that while in sympathy with any movement which this House may set up to safeguard the interests and welfare of discharged soldiers, it desires to leave the door open for any party to work for the benefit of these men. So far as the Debate has developed one cannot help coming to the conclusion that both the Mover of the Resolution and the Mover of the Amendment, as well as other hon. Members who have taken part in the discussion, have at heart the true interests of the soldiers who have served and are serving their country. Believing that, I want to make 362 a suggestion, and I would ask the Mover of the Amendment as well as the Mover of the original Motion to accept it. I desire to insert in the Amendment, after the words "political parties" the words "to act in combination to." If those words were acceptable I think the Amendment would meet the views of every hon. Member of this House. In appealing to the Mover of the Amendment and the House to support this suggestion I would remind the House that when I returned from overseas I took steps to start a movement having at heart the welfare of the soldiers, and it materialised. In the statement which I issued to the Press I said that it ought to be a non-political organisation to maintain the high spirit of comradeship which is bred in the trenches. That idea materialised until there is a big movement now in existence to carry out those objects. But as it developed I became aware of a feeling that because Members of Parliament were associated with it we were trying to make capital out of it. I discussed this in a friendly way with my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Sir H. Greenwood), and I sent in my resignation to the committee, because I believed that being an M.P. on the committee it would be a peg for some people to hang a complaint on and to attribute political motives. So far as I was concerned I kept clear of my own Constituency. I was asked by many to go down there to start a branch of that movement, but I did not do so for the simple reason that if I had done so I could have been accused of making political capital out of it, however well-intentioned I may have been.
I sincerely support previous speakers in appealing to this House to try to keep this question outside the political arena. It has been said by one speaker that you cannot keep the soldiers out, and that these men are becoming interested in political organisations. My answer to that is that if they are interested in political organisations they can put good men on their committees and strengthen their interest in that way. But I do strongly feel that this House ought to combine and that there ought to be one Parliamentary Committee representing every section of the House, of all political creeds, which will be the one tribunal which will act between the men and the Department which has to deal with pensions. I feel that if we do not do something like that the men themselves 363 will form an organisation which will be quite clear of any political influence, and they will have their own party which will develop into something approaching a military party in this House. We do not want that any more than we want anything else that is undesirable. But that is in all probability what will happen if we do not do something in the way I have suggested. In saying that, I am not saying just merely my own opinion, but it is what I gathered during the two years or more that I spent with the men in the trenches. I should like to see it come about that the different organisations which are catering for the welfare of these men will one day merge into one big whole. If those who are connected with these various movements do not do something on these lines the men will do it for them. I should like to see every Member of Parliament and every organisation or committee which may be in existence and having the welfare of these men at heart working in that direction. In sending in my resignation I said that if I remained on the Committee it might be said, being an M.P., that we had political motives in view, which we well knew to be untrue, but that it was mighty difficult to persuade the general public that we had not some political axe to grind. I then added that, taking all the circumstances into consideration, I would ask every Member of Parliament connected with the movement to consider the possibility of following my lead, and that in doing so they would be consulting the interests of those who had served and were serving their country. I added then, and my point is that we could all come together on non-political lines, and that we could support in this House the Parliamentary Pensions Committee of which the hon. Member (Sir Montague Barlow) is chairman. Surely we can put aside our political views in any movement such as that. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) said he was removed from the Committee. I remember going to the Committee for the first time. I had not the slightest idea what was to be done, but I found that new members of the Committee were to be elected at that meeting for the ensuing year, and, to my great surprise, someone proposed me and I was elected. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh was not present at that meeting. Had he been present I have not the slightest doubt that if he had been proposed 364 I should have seconded him, so keen was I to keep that particular movement out of the sphere of party. I would ask the hon. Member for East Edinburgh if he would be prepared to accept my Amendment.
§ Colonel Sir H. GREENWOOD
I have listened with great pleasure to the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Sir N. Griffiths), and I have listened to them with special respect, because up to the present he is the first Member who has spoken on this question of pensions who has actually served overseas. I remember, and I think the House ought to know, that the hon. and gallant Member was the pioneer of tunnelling troops, which now number tens of thousands on our many fronts. Although I have differed from him on some matters of details, I know that he has always had at heart the welfare of those who have so gallantly served in this War. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh makes rather too personal an appeal on this great question. I remember the meeting at which he was not re-elected hon. secretary of the Parliamentary War Pensions Committee, but he was elected a member of that Committee—a distinction which I should have thought, and which I am sure any Member of this House would think, was something to be proud of. He refused to sit as a member with the rest of us on the Parliamentary War Pensions Committee, and it was immediately after that that what is known as the Liberal Pensions Bureau was formed. If it was formed because the hon. Member for East Edinburgh took umbrage at the fact that he was not re-elected hon. secretary of the Parliamentary War Pensions Committee, all I can say is that I hope no other Member of Parliament will act in similar way. As a Liberal, I say that this Liberal Pensions Committee, which is purely a party concern, does not represent the Liberal Members of this House. They have never been consulted. Those of us who have been keenest on pension matters before the War—I make a great distinction between those who were keen on service and pension matters before the War and those who have been converted since the War—have never been consulted. This is a personal matter with me, because I am a Liberal; and while the hon. Member for East Edinburgh, much younger than myself, was advocating, properly and well, the payment of pensions to soldiers, some, like myself, were 365 doing their best to serve their country, following persistently their pre-war record. I resent the attempt—and I say it in the presence of the right hon. Gentleman the Whip of the Liberal party—to form a party committee without, at any rate, consulting the whole party in this matter, and I regret, in the interests of that party, of which I am, and will be, an active, vigorous, and independent member, the setting up of this committee, which can have no other effect than a cleavage of that splendid unity which was at its best in raising the Army and which, unhappily, is disappearing now that the Army is becoming gradually discharged or de-mobilised.
But this is far above a personal question. Personal matters are nothing now. The problem is this: We shall have between 5,000,000 and 6,000,000 discharged and demobilised soldiers and sailors when this War is over. These men, or nearly every one of them, will come back with many grievances, most of them justifiable. Remember that our Army which has borne the heat and burden of the War since 1914, is the worst-paid and worst-pensioned Army in the English-speaking world. Every soldier has served beside Americans and Colonials, who are very highly paid, very highly pensioned, and in other matters they have rewards far beyond the dreams of soldiers who have served for the Mother Country. Every one of these soldiers comes back with a grievance, which is emphasised because he finds that his fellow workers, who were left behind, are enjoying a prosperity which was unheard-of in the history of industry in this country. He finds that his house is gone. He finds that his wife has gone—probably to live with her mother. In thousands of cases that is true. I am only trying to put the gigantic problem which we must face on this question of discharged soldiers and their pensions. I know that some have an idea of a leisurely demobilisation that will permit Government Departments, not very vigorous, never very long-sighted, not always sympathetic—from the last category I except the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Pensions—to act without haste. This idea of leisurely demobilisation of the British Army, to my mind, is quite erroneous. When peace is declared the natural desire of these mighty forces, 96 or 97 per cent. of which never served before the War, will be to get home by the shortest route and get back to civil life, 366 and to imagine that the same discipline can hold men together in peace-time that holds them together because of the War is to misread the best characteristics of British men. The demobilisation will be rapid or the men will demobilise themselves. The very rapidity of the demobilisation is one of the difficulties which we have to face now and in the future. I myself believe that nothing but the most just and generous treatment of discharged and demobilised soldiers now, as an example, will smooth or alleviate the grievance that every returned man feels—a grievance that you may think is unjust, but, remember, a grievance that is emphasised and acerbated by the nerve-strain that comes to every sailor and soldier who has been a few months, let alone a few years, engaged in this awful War.
The object of any Government should be to get these gallant men back to civil life as quickly as possible on the best terms possible, with adequate pensions for those who qualify under the Royal Warrants now and the Royal Warrants of the future. I myself propose my own remedies for helping these men, one being to give them all a preference for Government employment, but that is a matter which is not raised in this Debate. Now we have this petition signed, as has been stated by my hon. Friend who moved the Motion, by 500 Members of this Parliament, and as the Irishmen are not present and are not included——
§ The MINISTER of PENSIONS (Mr. Hodge) dissented.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
Then it includes the Irish; but in any event I know of no petition to the Leader of the House signed by a larger number——
§ Mr. GULLAND
I got a request from the hon. Baronet asking me to be present to-day as one of those who had signed it. I certainly did not sign it. I know that a great many of my colleagues who got the same letter did not sign it, and if we are included in the 500 Members the hon. Baronet is——
Sir M. BARLOW
Perhaps I may explain that, as the Secretary of the Bureau is ill, the figures were given to me at the last minute, and I have not been able to check them, but if there is any discrepancy I will be very glad, of course, to correct it. I understood that those were the figures.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
Be that as it may, if any hon. Gentleman did not sign the petition I do not quite understand his point of view. If there is anybody in this House who wants to see this question of pensions made a party issue, he does not understand what he is in for and he does not understand what the country is in for. Be that as it may, I am not responsible for the figures. I took them from the speech made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Salford. We have this Parliamentary War Pensions Committee; it has worked well. In my view one solution, and I think the best, is along the lines of the admirable speech made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Paddington. We should have a strong Parliamentary War Pensions Committee, to which the Minister of Pensions could always refer matter of all kinds to help him, but a Parliamentary War Pensions Committee that will never for a moment allow the question of party politics to deflect them from their judgment in interpreting—because that is all they can do—the Royal Warrants which are the product of this House. That would be no interference with this House and would be a help to the House of Commons and a bulwark between that and any person or persons outside who wish to make the grievances of millions of gallant men who have served their country a great party issue which in the long run would not be to their interests, but in the intermediate stage would lead to chaos in the State. We are dealing with the future, with the possibilities and probabilities of the future. At the present moment we have, I believe, only some 400,000 discharged soldiers in the country, but we will have millions after the War. Before the War ends, in my view, we will have 1,500,000, and we ought now to make up our mind as to the principles and policy that will guide Members of Parliament.
In my own view, and I think in the view of all of us, the interests of those men who have served and of the dependants who have been left behind, and the interests of the State and of the Empire, which are really greater than those of any individual class, can best be served by stopping now every party pension bureau and focussing our energy and attention upon this Parliamentary War Pensions Committee that has done so well in the past. If you have party pensions bureaux you are going to have party pensions literature, party pensions speakers, party 368 pensions pledges on every platform in the country. You cannot help it. I am sorry to hear that anyone in this House wants this question of pensions to be made a party issue. We represent in this House three or four parties, but next election we may have six or seven parties, and the party that will be able to make the greatest appeal to soldiers and promise the largest pensions is the party of women. The wives and mothers and future wives and mothers will make promises of pensions vastly greater than any mere man would dare to utter. I say that that has been the experience of countries where women have the vote, but I do not want to be deflected from my main argument. If you have a party pensions bureau you get the whole trail of party machinery, party candidates, party pledges, and party promises from the platform of pensions to the soldiers and sailors. I deplore the possibility of that. I would like to see every man honestly and purely supporting the interests of the country and the men who have served and are serving.
I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Pensions, whose courage and sympathy in this matter of pensions have left the cases which are unremedied comparatively negligible, not to recognise for a moment a single organisation dealing with pensions, outside the local war pensions committees. The local war pensions committees are the creatures of this House. We are responsible for them. We can add to them. We can alter their personnel. We can increase their powers—acting, of course, through the Minister of Pensions. I hope that he will accept from me that advice as sound advice. He has the power to refuse to acknowledge any party or other organisation, and I am sure that the majority of the House of Commons would back him in taking that stand and laying down a policy now. Personally I have been keenly interested in the welfare of soldiers all my life. If the House will pardon me for being personal, I may say that I ran away when a boy to become a soldier, and I am sorry that I did not stick to it, and not go in for politics. We have to remember that you have in the vast Armies now fighting and dying for England the pick of this country, everyone of whom is suffering not only physically but financially. So far, I have never met a man who has been in the Army who has not suffered financially, 369 and whose people have also suffered financially by reason of his service to the country. I would impress upon the House that if there is to be just treatment of men, anything that is done must be done quickly, and where there is any doubt, err on the generous side, and let all act in unity through the Parliamentary War Pensions Committee, and also back up the Minister of Pensions. I hope that one result of this Debate will be that no personal question will enter into the laying down of the lines of a policy for the future, and I trust that the fundamental feature of that policy will be that no party pension bureau will be recognised by the State or encouraged by the House of Commons.
The House has listened, as it always does, with interest to the hon. and gallant Member, and I think he has done good service in the way he has drawn attention to what is the real problem with which we are at this moment concerned. In regard to the hon. Member for East Edinburgh, I think I am justified in pointing out that the House is not greatly concerned about reasons which led him to resign the secretaryship of a pensions committee. These personal matters are not of interest, and the House is concerned with something far more important than matters merely affecting individuals. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh laid down certain sound constitutional doctrines as to the possibilities and duties of Members of this House. I would be the last person to challenge the principles which he enunciated, and the only point to which I would return in this discussion was that which was so well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, when he asked the House to consider whether the result of the utilisation of party organisations would in the end inure to the benefit of the soldier rather than to the benefit of the party. Every Member I would like to think will share the view that party organisations are rather likely to fall into the temptation of advancing their own cause rather than having a single eye to the advantage of the men concerned. I was interested to hear the proposal or suggestion that was made by my hon. and gallant Friend, who, until lately, presided over the organisation, the Comrades of the Great War, and I think it is important for this House to consider what is going to be the ultimate action of the organisations over which my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh presides, and that over which 370 recently presided my hon. and gallant Friend. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for East Edinburgh that it is, of course, impossible even if it were desirable—in my judgment it is not—to prevent the formation of any organisation to deal with the interests of discharged soldiers. That is neither desirable, or, if it were desirable, is it possible? But I do feel most strongly that it is not desirable to have complete organisations, who are bound to be under some temptation and in some danger of not acting with a single eye to the merits of the pension questions themselves. It is quite obvious that if there are two competing organisations, and one is the more active, then the other will indulge in similar activities that may not be wholly justified by the merits of the case, which they ought alone to consider. I should like to see public opinion use the weight of its influence, and Members of this House their persuasive powers, to induce these two societies to respond to the invitation thrown out by my hon. and gallant Friend, namely, that the Federation of Discharged Soldiers and the Comrades of the Great War should come together as a single society for the benefit of those men whose interests they both seek to serve. I refused to join either one or the other, for the same reason as my hon. and gallant Friend gave, until they do combine, because I feel that will be best in the interests of the men.
It is perfectly clear to all of us who have followed this Debate that, in a sense, this Motion and the Amendment are not unopen to the charge of being academic. I would be the first to admit that, but at the same time let us be under no delusion, for it has an effective side to it, if we are to decide that this lies between three separate parties to this organisation or one Parliamentary organisation. I submit that my hon. and gallant Friend made the point perfectly clear when he said that the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh explicitly went for three parties as opposed to what is the general sense of the House, namely, a central Parliamentary Committee. We are all of us conscious that in this matter we are labouring under some difficulty, for this reason, that, as my hon. Friend who moved the Resolution pointed out, it is quite impossible to assess our obligations in terms of money. And there is, further, great danger to the national conscience of speaking and thinking only in terms of money. It is certainly necessary that you 371 should have your money provisions on what I might call the basis of sufficiency, and I would go further and say the basis of generosity. It is also necessary that your administrative machinery should be as good and as rapidly worked as possible. In that connection I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a point which I think cannot be emphasised too often, namely, the value and importance of giving all possible encouragement to voluntary work. The importance of voluntary work is that it is the best ally against the party political spirit. Your local work draws all parties and all sorts of people of both sexes, well known in their localities, into co-operation, and that more than any other thing, in my judgment, will keep the party political spirit out of the question of pensions. I do not know whether I am right in this, but I think I have noticed a certain tendency in some quarters to discourage voluntary work in favour of official work. If that be so, I think it is an injurious tendency, and one that is not in the interests of those who are concerned. I think I am not far wrong in saying that, on the whole, you want your administration and your Regulations—if they are to give satisfaction—very thoroughly tempered with humanity.
Your cannot avoid your central regulation-making machine being rather on the side of the State or impersonal. That is unavoidable. But you can counteract that by giving all the encouragement you can to local voluntary work, so that the whole of this question will be managed in a way which will give it what is human about it without being sentimental. That is what I hope we shall have in the future. The fact is that the whole question of the future of pensions in this country, and the part which they will play in our political life, will depend upon how it is handled by the central administration. You may pass what Resolutions you will in this House, but unless the administration is good and meets with public approval you will never be able to resist pressure by people concerned. Therefore let every one of us, and let the Minister of Pensions—as the right hon. Gentleman does to-day—remember that this is first and foremost and last, for all time, a human question. Let us ask ourselves what the ordinary parent would do who was faced with a problem that faces the State to-day. What would the parent of means do, the parent who has imagination, and who is faced 372 with the problem of trying to rebuild his-son in life, who has returied maimed from the War? Would not the first thing he would do would be to try to give again to his boy that which he had lost—courage, hope, and social life? Would he not try to show that boy that there are a great many fields open to him which at the first shock of his injury he hardly hoped or realised? That is what your wise parent with means would do, and that is what many wise parents without means would like to do for their sons, and that is what the State can do for the sons of parents who are not in a position to do it themselves. Therefore I should not be in order if I went further along that path beyond saying this, that I regard the work of the curative workshops and that sort of thing as being vitally connected with the whole question of pensions from the point of view of keeping it out of party politics, because if you develop all that properly and quickly you have got a chance of really preventing your problem getting too big. One more remark. I think the House would like to be reassured that on that vital matter the Ministry of Pensions, the War Office, and the Ministry of Labour are really working together. I could give the right hon. Gentleman——
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
The hon. Member's one more remark is one too many. This is not the occasion to discuss the administration of the Departments.
I apologise, Sir. I was led away by an encouraging smile from the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I only wanted to urge on the right hon. Gentleman that all these general questions have their bearing, and that only by considering the general principles and their practical application can we hope, in my judgment, that they are successfully to deal with the legacy of the War.
§ Mr. HODGE
I really must be careful not to smile if it is going to lead hon. Members to disregard the Orders of the House. The position of the Pensions Ministry and the problem being discussed to-day is a very simple one, and I personally regret that anything of a personal nature should have entered into the discussion. It appeared to me as I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) that in his case that it was discharge aggravated by service that was the principal offence. A charge 373 was made against myself, as the hon. president of the British Workers' League, and I suppose the inference was that I gave preference to complaints from soldiers which came through that agency. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I think that that was a fair inference. Let me say that in the early days of the War that organisation was a purely propaganda organisation, and it countered the pacifist tendencies of a certain section of the community. It was only recently that it became a political organisation. In the early stages my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary dealt with all the cases of that organisation, but the moment they became a political organisation running candidates I at once issued instructions that no more of their cases were to be dealt with. It appears to me that it would be a deplorable thing if party political organisations were formed for the purpose of taking up the grievances, real or alleged, of disabled soldiers. The disabled soldiers and sailors have their own organisations, which can very well look after the interests of the disabled men without taking the appearance of political quarrels.
§ Mr. HODGE
We do not refuse their cases, because of the fact that this House has set up local war pension committees. If they fail in their duty, I have never yet refused to take up a man's case, no matter where it came from, but he ought to utilise the machinery that Parliament has placed at his disposal before he applies to any other organisation. Of course, Members of Parliament have an inalienable right to voice the grievances of their constituents, but they have no right to act as the Press agents of the grievances of men from all over the country, and I think I have a right to resent that kind of thing. My desire is and has been to speed up the machinery so far as dealing justly with every grievance is concerned, and I say this, that grievances which arise or have arisen since I became Pensions Minister have been promptly dealt with. What have clogged the machine were the grievances of men discharged in 1914, 1915, and 1916, previous to the passing of the Barnes Warrant, and it must be remembered that the Barnes Warrant brought men in, so far as pensions were concerned, who under previous Warrants received nothing, so that it is only by the lapse of time that 374 many men have had an opportunity of realising that they were entitled to something; and when a period of, say, two years has elapsed before a man makes a claim, in many instances you have got to reconstruct the whole case, and that of itself means a loss of time. My hon. Friend referred to Chelsea. I want to say this, that I knew that Chelsea was labouring as a result of a bad system—probably, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Colonel Sir H. Greenwood) said, because of the lack of vision. I have got one of the best organisers at my disposal there, who has reconstructed the whole system, and I venture to say that the work at Chelsea to-day is well done, and that there are very few mistakes. If my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) thinks that he can improve on this work, I shall be very glad of his assistance. I shall be very glad to give him every facility for the purpose of obtaining information, d of suggesting any means or any method whereby an improvement on present practice can be accomplished. I venture to say that the Pensions Ministry are not one of the hidebound Departments. I have rather been blamed for being bluff. I hate sealing wax and red tape, and I do not intend to be enmeshed in them. I would rather leave the position.
Many things have been said with respect to the setting up of the Committee. May I say that, so far as the Pensions Bureau of this House is concerned, I have always been willing and ready to meet them and talk over any difficulty they had or any proposition they wished to make for the improvement of the present position. If the House has a non-party committee of that character I shall be perfectly willing to co-operate with them for the purpose of doing the best we can for those men who have suffered and sacrificed for you and for me, which is the best way of putting it. That is all my interest, so far as this particular matter is concerned. As a matter of fact, if you take, as an example, the funds that I have initiated for setting men up, I have made proposals to that bureau that I would be very glad of their co-operation in the administration as well as in the endeavour to get funds for the purpose of extending the work that we have been seeking to accomplish, and I am glad to say that only this morning I have received intimation of another donation of £25,000 375 to that fund. May I just further say that the attitude that I have assumed with respect to the War Pensions Bureau of the Liberal party I have assumed to the Labour party, the party to which I belong, as well as the British Workers' League. The letter, which we wrote in April last, was as follows:With reference to your letter of the 19th ultimo, I am directed by the Ministry of Pensions to inform you that he is unable to deal with cases referred to this Department by a party organisation. Officers and their relatives should be advised to apply, in writing, to this office directly, and soldiers and their dependants to the local war pensions committees.All I desire to say is that I am going to stand by that, and I hope the House of Commons is going to back me up in that determination.
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
There is one aspect of this question which I do not think has been very fully discussed to-day, although we have discussed a great many things that were hardly aspects of this question, if I may be pardoned for saying so. I do not think the American analogy threw much light on our present situation, and I am sure no one is more anxious than I am that anything approaching the American experience should not be felt in this country. There is one general proposition which I hold as strongly as any Member of the House, and that is that it would be a great misfortune if the question of the amount of pensions and the conditions of pensions became a matter of competition between parties. I think it is hardly possible, and the House will I think agree with me, for anyone who has twice made a sojourn at the Treasury not to be aware of the immense evils that would follow from any such situation as that, but that does not settle the question, nor does that have anything whatever to do with the Liberal Pensions Bureau. I noticed throughout this Debate that not a single charge of any improper action on the part of that bureau was made by any single speaker, and the reason is very simple, because no such charge could fairly be brought forward. Members are afraid of what may happen, but they are not complaining of anything that has happened. I am bound to point out to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions that, after all, if anything wrong has been done he set the example, because I have here the report for last year of the British Workers' League, of which he is president, and one of the paragraphs in that 376 report is an advertisement or, not to use any offensive word, a statement, of what they have done, the number of cases they have dealt with, and their success in dealing with them, and also of the fact that they went very much beyond the Liberal Pensions Bureau because they went into policy, and they boast of what they have done in that direction.
I could not altogether follow my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment, because he started by saying that he deprecated politicians and parties touching this matter. That was a consistent position if he had stopped there, but immediately after he said that he admitted that it was the inalienable right of Members of Parliament to voice the complaints of their constituents and to redress any grievance that their constituents had. It is quite impossible to keep politicians from touching this matter. After all, it is politicians who will have to decide the whole question. A number of us represent constituencies from which thousands of men have gone to the front. Their relatives write. Are we to say, "We cannot touch this thing; you must write to the Ministry of Pensions"?
I am not suggesting the right hon. Gentleman said that. I am suggesting that would be the result if Members refused to touch the matter. I am bound to remind my right hon. Friend, in regard to one of the cases I sent to the Ministry, I received a reply two months afterwards to the effect that they had not been able to deal with it. This is an extremely complicated matter. I will acquit my right hon. Friend of having a liking for red-tape or sealing-wax, or anything else that is formal. I do not think my right hon. Friend's tendencies would lie in that direction, but rather, perhaps, over-violently in the other direction. But I think he will admit—and I am afraid it is in the nature of the case—that these Regulations and Warrants are extremely complicated affairs. No ordinary soldier could understand them if be read them, and the ordinary Member of Parliament finds the greatest difficulty in keeping himself informed and up to date in regard to them. What was the position presented to my mind? Here is my right hon. Friend setting an example by being president of an organisation which includes a pensions bureau. Here is the Labour party setting up a joint committee 377 of trade unions with the Labour party to deal with this matter. It is quite impossible for individual Members to deal with complexities of this class. And for what purpose was the Liberal Pensions Bureau set up? For the purpose of getting technical advice about these cases. It is not an organisation to ask for larger pensions, or even to reform the system. It is an organisation to advise Members of Parliament rather what the rights of individuals are in particular cases. I quite understand deprecating the making of pensions, the amount of pensions, the conditions of pensions, a matter of party competition. But what is the harm of having an organisation to which you can go and say, "Here is a case. Is this man right in his complaint? What is the position of this case under the Warrant?" That is all that the Liberal bureau has done.
No, and the Liberal bureau have no intention of setting up an election campaign. My hon. Friend who moved this Motion admitted that there had been cases of maladministration, as he put it, and non-effective administration. I am using his words. Undoubtedly there have been cases where the person affected could not obtain satisfactory information from the local committees. There are many cases of that sort, and it is common ground that it is not only the right but it is the duty of a Member of Parliament to deal with these cases. Is he to deal with them on adequate information or inadequate information? We thought it would be better to deal with them on adequate information. My hon. Friend and former colleague made a suggestion which I think might be very well Considered, that there should be a committee of all parties who might deal with these matters. But that has not come into being yet in the sense in which my hon. Friend proposes. I am very glad to hear my right hon. Friend has been impartial, and that he refuses to recognise his own organisation as well as the Liberal organisation. That, at any rate, is a very proper attitude for him to assume, but, still, his name appears as president, and I cannot help thinking his position at the present time is somewhat inconsistent and a little open to criticism. Let us reduce this thing to proper proportions. I should be the last person to defend making this a matter of party competition. I hope it never will be. But 378 you cannot prevent individual candidates from making it a matter of party competition, and I hope those who have influence with all the parties will try to discountenance that so far as possible, because one of our greatest tasks after the War will be to adjust our diminished resources to all the various and very urgent claims which will be made upon them. But I cannot see what crime has been committed by the setting up of a bureau to interpret extremely complicated matters, and to enable Members of Parliament, who have an admitted duty to deal with these matters, to deal with them intelligently and with full and adequate knowledge.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Let me say at the outset that the very small part I am going to take in this Debate I do not take as representing the Government, for this is a Motion for the House of Commons to consider, and I would like to say, with reference to a suggestion which was made by a previous speaker, that the Leader of the House had given this day for some reason because of something which was done by the pensions committee to which my right hon. Friend has referred, that that is not the case. I agreed to give a day for the simple reason that a very large number of Members signed a petition and desired that the subject should be discussed. That is the reason, and the sole reason, so far as I am concerned. Let me say further, that I had no idea that this Debate this afternoon could possibly take even so much of a party complexion as it has taken, and, personally, in anything I say, and in anything the House of Commons does this afternoon, I think we should try to look at the question on its merits, and without any reference to what has been done by one party or the other party in the present, but to consider what we ought to do in the future with regard to this matter. My right hon. Friend who has been, as he said, twice at the Treasury, began his, speech by pointing out that nothing could be worse—not only from a Treasury point of view, but, I am sure, from the point of view of the House of Commons, the country and the men affected—than that claims of this kind should be treated from the party point of view. I am quite sure we are all agreed about that.
I can quite understand how an organisation such as that to which my right hon. Friend referred has grown up. The ordinary party machinery is not working, 379 fortunately. It is, perhaps, beginning to work a little more than in the earlier stages of the War. One does not like to see it. At all events, it is not working in full blast. It is quite natural, whilst the War is going on, that one should say, "Why should we not use the machinery for giving information on these very technical points?" I quite understand, but it really cannot end there, and I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree it cannot end there when we come back to the ordinary party-fighting in this country. I think it must be quite evident to everyone that, in that case, if it is a recognised portion of the machinery of any political party to deal with pensions and to say, not as a Member of Parliament dealing with his own constituency, but as a political party appealing to the country, to get returned and gain power, that they are going to deal with this, it must be most disastrous in its general effect. It really cannot be otherwise, and I do think the case is made stronger, and, perhaps, in one sense, it is rather a good thing, that my right hon. Friend should be pilloried as having taken a wrong step in this direction. It is not a mistake made by one or the other. It is this question: Are we in the future going to have a subject which will affect every constituency in the country, which will affect immense masses in the country, and a subject in regard to which the sympathy of every man, woman, and child will be on the side of these men who are making these claims—are we going to have that used as a means of getting one party or another into power in this country? [HON. MEMBERS: No!"] If we do, I have not the slightest doubt that we shall start one of the most demoralising things that has ever been seen.
An hon. Member—I forget who it was—suggested that the party to which I belong would not have the ability to get a proper scheme of this kind. We have been called a stupid party, but I do not think we would be so stupid that we would not be able to get up a proper machinery to make an election campaign out of that if we tried. I have been now a party leader for seven years. I have tried to win. I was not successful. Our party never came into power. I cannot imagine anything that would be more repugnant to me than to use this as a means of trying to gain power. I think it would be abominable. That is really all I want to say. I am not finding fault with what has been done up to now. What my 380 right hon. Friend has said shows that, in his heart, he agrees with me. He knows that if once you have these machines setup as part of a party organisation they will be used for party purposes. He knows as well as I do that nothing could be worse, and I think what the House of Commons ought to do is to put the thing on a higher level than recriminations as to what has been done up to now, to look to the future, to recognise the evil in front of us, and by clear indication, by carrying this Resolution—which does not contain a word to which I should think anyone can object—to show that the House of Commons is determined, so far as it can, to keep the question at least out of the arena of ordinary party politics.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I think we are really dealing with a very thorny and difficult question, and we certainly have not got to the bottom so far. I am convinced that there is no Member of this House who desires in the interests of some political purpose to exploit the grievances of discharged men. If he does, he does a very mean and contemptible action indeed. At the same time, Members of this House are bound to recognise that many of these men have grievances that must be raised in this House, and, therefore, every grievance of a soldier is a political question. It will be very difficult indeed to maintain the line of division between what is a political question and preventing that question becoming an issue between various political parties. Even if it is done nationally, and the evil is avoided nationally, this is bound to arise time and again, with two or three candidates presenting themselves locally, that an organisation of soldiers comes to them with various proposals and says, "Are you prepared to support this or are you not prepared to support this?" One candidate says "Yes"; one candidate says "No." The issue has become not only a political issue, but it has become a party issue between the parties in these various districts. How is that going to be prevented?
§ Mr. ANDERSON
How is it going to be done by passing any such pious Resolution? We have not touched the very fringe of this question. We have not got to grips with the question at all, and there the real issues are. No one doubts for a minute that there are very real 381 grievances in regard to discharged men. I received notice to-day from Sheffield of two disused pig-styes on a piece of vacant land, without water or sanitary accommodation of any kind, occupied by the families of two discharged soldiers, one including two children. These matters are bound to come up for consideration and discussion. It is true they ought not to be made a matter as between parties. It ought to be a common matter. But if that is going to be done we have to build up the proper machinery by which it can be done. That is really the problem that confronts Members of Parliament. How are you going to ensure fair, just, and impartial administration of all these questions without bringing them into the arena of ordinary party politics? If there is unfairness or injustice done to the soldiers it is right that Members of Parliament should take up the question, even if it involves division and cleavage between the parties, and the only safeguard is the adequate and just administration of the whole question by the Government itself. If some machinery could be devised by which fair and legitimate pressure from all sides, and of no party character, having no party motive and no desire to advance one party as against the other—I agree that is a matter which ought to be avoided—that might be attempted; but until we have done that we have not solved the problem, and neither the Resolution nor the Amendment, nor both together, would really get rid of the real difficulty at all. Again and again in local elections the grievances of municipal employés are raised in precisely the same way in regard to wages and other matters, and they very often tend to become a matter of conflict between parties. The same things are going to arise here. If some wide and representative Committee could be appointed to consider how best the matter can be lifted above party decision and be placed on the rock of justice and fair dealing, it might get us out of the difficulty, but we are not going to get out of it merely by the passing of a Resolution which leaves the whole matter precisely where it was before.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
Like many others who have spoken, I feel an intense abhorrence to the idea that we should split ourselves up into political parties, and say, We Liberals will look after the Liberal dependants of discharged men, and we Conservatives will look after our 382 Conservatives, and we Labour men will look after our Labour men. I certainly hold the view very strongly that it is the duty of all men of all parties to unite and co-operate in order to secure justice and proper administration for soldiers and sailors and their dependants, whatever party they belong to, without discrimination. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wood) expressed very properly the feeling that Members of this House ought to have at their disposal some machinery whereby they could get information on these complicated matters which arise in connection with pensions, but he forgot that such machinery was in existence in the shape of the Parliamentary War Pensions Bureau, and that he and his Friends who have started the Liberal Bureau could have got from the Parliamentary War Pensions Bureau not only the same information, but from actually the very same man who is now at the head of their organisation. Therefore, I think the right hon. Gentleman must admit that he has not advanced his argument very far by pointing out that they have started this organisation in order to obtain that information. The genesis of this new political pensions organisation has been frankly disclosed by the hon. Member (Mr. Hogge), because it is perfectly plain that if in that conversation he claims to have had with the Leader of the House he had been offered a certain post in the Government he would not have been the mainspring of this new organisation; and, further, if he had been re-elected as hon. secretary of the non-party Parliamentary War Pensions Bureau, he would have stuck to the non-party system and would not be advocating the splitting up of parties.
The Amendment was seconded by an hon. Member (Mr. Henderson), with whom I have rather a greater quarrel, because he said he considers that the Parliamentary War Pensions Bureau, with which I have been connected ever since its formation, had behaved in a shabby manner. That being so, I think it perhaps only right that I should put on record exactly what happened at the meeting in question, when the hon. Member (Mr. Hogge) was not re-elected. It was on the 5th December, 1917, after the bureau had been working about a year and a half, and it was the first annual meeting and the second election of officers. The then chairman, the hon. Member (Sir Ellis Griffith), a Liberal, insisted on resigning, and on the 383 proposal of another Liberal, the hon. Member for Sunderland, still another Liberal, the hon. Baronet for Doncaster (Sir C. Nicholson), was proposed as secretary, in addition to the hon. Member (Mr. Hogge). Finally, the hon. Baronet (Sir C. Nicholson) was elected by twenty-four votes, the hon. Member (Mr. Hogge) only securing eight votes. That was out of a meeting of some seventy or eighty Members of the House, of all parties. It was not a party vote, some Conservatives—one I can remember in particular—voting in the minority for the hon. Member (Mr. Hogge), who was elected on the Committee but refused to serve, and, by a strange coincidence, very shortly after became an advocate of introducing politics into pensions, which he has endeavoured to support now.
To leave all that, it seems to me that the real question which is before us is this: Are Members of all parties going to co-operate for the good of the discharged soldier and sailor and their dependants? Are we going to work solely and unselfishly for their good, or are we going to compete with each other not solely for the benefit of the discharged men or dependants but with one eye very much open to the main chance, with part of our energies devoted not to the good of the men and their dependants but of our own political party? That is the choice we have to make. Are we going to co-operate unselfishly on a high level or are we going to compete selfishly and on a low level? If we compete there must be a great deal of overlapping, there must be three, four, five, or six committees all doing work which could be done by one, there must be a large number of men paid quite unnecessarily and a great deal of money must be wasted which could be devoted to very much better purposes. If we adopt the system of competition, no matter how good the motives may be of those who favour it, certain logical sequences must follow. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wood) said no specific charges had been brought as to what had been done up to now. Certainly not. It would be very remarkable if, after this short period, anyone could say, You have done this or that which is absolutely wrong. But when people take certain steps logical sequences follow, and it is inevitable that if first one party and then another start these political information bureaux they must advance from giving information and 384 must go on to take action in regard to administration. That has been the history of the non-party Parliamentary bureau. We found we had to come to exerting pressure on Ministers, and we did it very efficaciously.
The next step to that will be that the political agents all over the country will get busy and will introduce into every constituency a competition to secure on their register the names of people whose cases they have dealt with. After all, it is not the job of a political agent to discriminate between good and bad cases. His job would be to get cases, good, bad, and indifferent, on the books of his organisation and to pass them up to headquarters and get them pressed and exert any political influence he may possibly have, and the less scrupulous among them might very easily drop dark hints of a political "pull." The object of all this would be to establish a sort of moral obligation upon the electors who have availed themselves of these facilities—an obligation which could be repaid by votes at election time. To my mind that seems an absolutely logical sequence. It is a terrible thing to think that the men who have fought for us, and their widows and children, should be put in the position that they cannot exercise their adherence to the political party with which their sympathies lie because they have been got at perhaps by the political agent of some rival party, who, having once obtained their names on his register, says, "My party did this or that for you in regard to your pension, and now an election is coming on we ask for your political support." That can only lead to a lowering of political life; it also has its dangers in regard to corruption. If there was one political party sufficiently strong and there were a Pensions Minister sufficiently weak, it might lead to grave results. And for what good? For what advantage? In order that one political party may benefit over another! On behalf of the soldiers and sailors and their dependants I plead that we tonight shall register our belief in placing pensions upon a high standard, not only financially but morally, recognising that this is a national duty to be discharged by all of us in friendly cooperation, unselfishly, and without any axe of our own to grind or any idea of benefiting any particular political party.
§ Mr. C. HARMSWORTH
The hon. Member who last spoke has given us a 385 very interesting narrative of what took place at the meeting of the Parliamentary War Pensions Bureau at the time of the retirement of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge). I am a supporter of that bureau, and I do not remember ever having been invited to attend that particular meeting. But what interests me about it is this, that the bureau was unfortunate enough to lose the services of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh, of whom of all Members of this House it may be said that he really rendered great service in this matter. It is for that reason I very much regret his departure from the non-party bureau to become the secretary of a party bureau. I deprecate that tendency with every possible strength that I can bring to bear on the question. I have not the slightest doubt—none of us can doubt, from what we know of those Members of this House who are connected with the Liberal bureau, that the intentions of that organisation are to promote the best interests of soldiers and sailors. But still I would very respectfully suggest it is unfortunate to depart from the non-party attitude in this national matter and to make the pensions a question that may quite easily excite rivalry between political organisations. My right hon. Friend the Member for St. Rollox (Mr. McKinnon Wood) has indeed given us to understand that that has already happened. I understood him to read from a pamphlet issued by the British Workers' League an extract which appeared to amount to a claim that the league had achieved certain great successes in the matter of securing pensions for its friends. The extract went so far as to contrast the achievements of the league with those of other parties. If this is being done surely we are already on the brink of an unhappy position which every Member of this House must of necessity deprecate. Already, if I understood the right hon. Gentleman rightly, one political party in the State is beginning to claim advantages over other political parties in respect of a question which ought to be, and which we should all strive to make, a purely national question. My right hon. Friend said that after all we politicians will have to settle this question. No doubt while we, as politicians representing the people of this country, may have to settle this question, we should not do so through our party political machinery. It is a totally different thing for a Member of this House acting through the House of Commons to consider this question and for 386 him to get it settled through his political organisation in competition with another political organisation.
Members of this House have every reason to congratulate themselves on the fact that in process of time they have been denuded of every kind of political patronage. There was a time when Members of this House had offices of profit in their gift and were able to make nominations for them. But one thing after another of this kind has disappeared, and ever since I have been a Member of this House we have been striving to remove ourselves from any connection with appointments of justices of the peace, and committees have been set up to settle that question in the respective districts, very much to our advantage and convenience. I may, too, remind the House that uot many years ago, when a very important Bill was before us—I refer to the National Health Insurance Bill—which involved the necessity for appointing a very large number of people—hon. Members petitioned the Minister in charge of the Bill to lay it down as a rule that no appointment should be made to his Department on the recommendation of politicians. I remember the circulars which were issued by the Department to that effect, and I know I had the pleasure of sending quite a number of them to ardent and reputable political supporters of my own, who sought appointments under the Act. In my opinion, it was a wise step for Members to take, to denude themselves of the chance of exercising political influence in matters which have nothing whatever to do with politics. Nothing could be more unfortunate than that we Members of this House should be found in the constituencies competing one with another, wrangling and wangling over the question of pensions. This question of pensions is a sacred and honourable charge on all the Members of this House, and, indeed, on the whole of this great community. Let us, therefore, keep it removed as far as possible from the arena of party politics. Experienced politicians in this House have had large and, in some cases, uncomfortable experience in elections. We all know, to put it frankly, that we cannot trust our political machine in a matter of this kind, and we must all of us strive to keep the subject quite apart from any connection with our party struggles.
§ Colonel GREIG
May I say that as a Liberal I heartily agree with what has fallen from the last speaker. I, too, am very sorry that the Member for East Edinburgh had to withdraw from the non-party bureau.
§ Colonel GREIG
However that may be, I understand he did a lot of good work, and, therefore, I regard it as a very regrettable circumstance he should have severed his connection with it. At the same time, after having listened to what he said this afternoon, I must express my regret that he has taken the personal line he has done, as he must thereby have withdrawn from himself a good deal of the sympathy which otherwise his position must have evoked. With regard to the general question, I honestly believe that a large amount of the difficulty surrounding this question will disappear, and disappear quickly, for this reason: If the local pensions committees will do their work thoroughly, if they will thrash out all the questions that come before them, there will be very little for any political party, or anybody else, to do. At the present time, in many constituencies, there is a well-organised and active local pensions committee doing its work thoroughly and well. I quite agree, and I am sure no one can say it is wrong, that if a local pensions committee finds any particular difficulty which it cannot solve, it is right and proper it should communicate with the Member for the constituency and ask him to bring the matter to the notice of the Minister for Pensions. That is a proper relationship which should always be maintained as between a Member and his constituency, and it is a relationship which does not affect the pensions question alone—it affects a hundred other matters which are sent up here to be dealt with because the difficulty cannot be solved locally. In that direction you have a proper arena for the intervention of the Member for the division, but we do want to prevent the party organisation being brought in for the purpose. With reference to what has taken place in regard to the pensions bureau set up by the Liberal party, I feel certain that it was a mistake to start it. I am sorry that the Liberals did start it, because they thereby copied a very bad example set by another party in this House, and if that sort of thing goes 388 on we may have further imitations endangering the breaking of the political truce which now exists. I agree that as soon as you have the party organisations brought into the matter the question will immediately become one of party propaganda, and we shall have all the parties competing one with another. One of the speakers just now suggested that we should be faced at election time with organisations connected with the soldiers and sailors, who would demand to know how we were going to vote on these questions. But, after all, that is only the ordinary experience of everyone who aspires to represent his fellow countrymen. We already have temperance and other organisations asking us whether or not we will support their particular views, and if a Parliamentary candidate honestly wants to do his duty by his country he explains his views to those people, and it is open to them to support him, or otherwise, as they think fit. If, therefore, we have organisations connected with the soldiers and sailors taking the same course, we have no right to object. Indeed, I would rather meet an organisation of soldiers and sailors worked by themselves than a licenced victuallers' organisation or anything of that sort. When those questions are put, one deals with them like any other question that crops up at an election time. What we object to, and what I hope the result of this Debate will be, is that all parties will consent to drop party in connection with this subject. If you are to have any organisation above the local pensions committees, then we might have a Parliamentary Committee formed as fairly as it can be. In my own experience I have never had to go to any bureau. I have tried to keep in touch with the local pensions committees, and when any case of difficulty has occurred I have put, the matter before the Pensions Ministry. They have always done their best to get the matter settled, not because I have done it, but because they wish to get the work done. I want to pay my tribute to the energy and the rapidity, in face of an enormous mass of work, which has gone on accumulating every week, with which they have straightened these matters out. I do not want to depreciate what other hon. Members have done, but I believe if hon. Members would get more into contact with their own local pensions committee, and then, if they find difficulties arise, 389 submit them to the Minister of Pensions, they will find it better than consulting any political pensions bureau.
§ Mr. WING
I should like to associate myself with the concluding remark of the hon. Member who has just sat down, and to state publicly that I have no complaints whatever to make either in reference to the War Office or the Pensions Department as to the way they have done their work, for they have done their best and given every reasonable attention to the cases put before them. I have, however, listened to this Debate with some degree of curiosity, because all through it there seems to have been something undisclosed, something that has not been said, but upon which this Debate itself is built. For instance, the Mover of the Motion never spoke about the Resolution, but he gave us a dissertation upon America, and what happened there, and he emphasised this by saying that the English people were honest. The Seconder of the Motion gave us an address on the possibility of a better administration, but neither of those hon. Gentlemen dared to face the Motion which they have placed upon the Paper. It seems to me that the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), by some means or other, by some organisation in this House or outside, has obtained a certain amount of credit which some other people think is a little more than he is entitled to. I wish to say that, whatever credit stands in a public sense to the hon. Member for East Edinburgh, he has earned every ounce of it; and in addition to that, I say that since the hon. Member took up this matter he has changed the attitude of a number of hon. Members who were entirely of the opposite opinion before his intervention in a public sense in regard to this question. For instance, many hon. Members gaily voted for Conscription, and it was to be all-round-jolly-well everybody, but when the hon. Member for East Edinburgh began to call attention to the effect of calling up this and that class of men, that appealed to public sentiment, and there was quite a change in the attitude of those hon. Members. Now, when fresh Regulations have been brought in, hon. Members will not wait for twenty-four hours lest the hon. Member for East Edinburgh should have a question on the Paper to raise the matter, and so they raised the question themselves by giving Private Notice. This 390 eagerness did not find expression in days gone by, and you would almost imagine that there was no organisation existing.
Some hon. Members who have been speaking about having no relationship with these organisations I find do belong to outside organisations—in fact, they are presidents of some of them—and they go from one part of the country to another attending public meetings, where they point out with zest that Parliament must be urged to stand up for the rights of the men they are addressing. A Motion like this may be a refuge and a hiding place, but it in no wise alters the facts of the situation, and it does not affect the Federation of Soldiers and Sailors led by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh, or the Comrades of the Great War, which has been referred to by my hon. Friend, and supported largely by the hon. Member for Sunderland. I should not like to think that the hon. Member for West Sal-ford wanted to do anything but what was the right and proper thing, but a good many of the addresses we have had this afternoon on political influence seem to leave me really cold, because some of those who have taken part in the Debate have been very prominent in other directions in relation to soldiers and sailors. If we are to be so pure and unblemished, as some hon. Members would like to picture, then there are other organisations to include besides the Liberal Pensions Bureau under our special consideration, and it would mean that a large number of hon. Members would have to sever their connection with outside organisations.
Personally, I feel that the Motion is not really directed against the real thing it purports to represent, but it is purely a party attack upon what they consider a party bureau, which was brought into existence for general guidance. I speak rather independently of those associations because I have never used any of them. I have not used the Liberal Pensions Bureau, the Comrades of the Great War, or the Federation of Soldiers and Sailors, but I know that their officials undertake cases and put themselves into direct communication with the Minister of Pensions, and they tell their people that they will get these things settled. I have consulted directly with the Department concerned on these matters, and therefore these organisations are of no assistance to me, because I feel that I have a duty to perform between my Constituents and the Departments interested in these particular 391 matters about which they inquire. Personally, I feel that the House would be well advised to allow matters to stand where they are, and that this matter should not go very much further than it has done.
§ Colonel YATE
I hope the House will not listen to the concluding words of the hon. Member who has just sat down, and let this matter remain where it is now. I think it is necessary that we should take steps to put an end to all political work in connection with the question of pensions. I spoke strongly on this point when the Ministry of Pensions Bill was going through this House, and I have been looking up what I said on the subject at that time. I know that I raised the question of keeping pensions free from all political influence, and I am sorry that I did not get any support whatsoever from the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill (Mr. A. Henderson). I said:The right hon. Gentleman has given us no indication that he is prepared to deal with this question or that he sympathises with our views. In fact, he laughs at the matter.I thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Henderson) would have been here to give us his opinion on this subject, and I was anxious to see what Lobby he would go into on this question. He laughed then at the idea that any political influence would be brought to bear, and the result has been the Debate to which we have just listened. I cordially agree with the Mover and Seconder of this Resolution, and I trust that real and earnest steps will be taken to remove all political influence from this question. I look forward with horror to being asked by this organisation or that to vote for an increase of pension for this or that class. We must have some absolutely impartial tribunal, free from all political connection whatsoever.
Mr. CARADOC REES
It seems that in this Motion there are two conflicting standpoints, that of the State and that of the pensioner or the widow of the man who has fallen, and it depends altogether upon which standpoint you take as to the conclusion you will come to on this question. From the standpoint of the State it may be important, and it is important, that pensioners should not join together or form a party, and if they do it will be called a political party. The first point 392 I put is this, that from the standpoint of the State it is bad. Secondly, I would ask from the standpoint of the pensioner, is it bad? Personally I object strongly to the State being exploited in this way. In municipalities where there are a large number of municipal employés they are partly masters of the situation through their votes, authough they are servants of the municipality, but being part masters and part servants, they use their position to increase the wages they get from the corporation. I object to it; but if any body of men in this country are entitled to join together to see that proper pensions are paid after the War, surely it is the widows and orphans of the men who have fallen in this War, and nobody is more entitled than them. At the present time when they go to any Government office concerned they are met cordially and perhaps received with courtesy, but looking forward to a time after the War I am rather anxious lest a widow should be treated with some such reply as this, "It does not come within a certain section," and the Departments will not be interested to give the woman as much as they can, but to give her as little as they can. How are these people to act?
I suggest that they are entitled to band themselves together. I think from their own point of view they would be almost wicked not to band themselves together in order to see that they get adequate pensions, and get them at the proper and the regular time. The House is aware that in connection with workmen's compensation cases there are large trade unions, and what is the result? Hon. Members may say, "Why does not each man go on his own and apply for compensation?" The reason is it is too expensive. In this matter the Government is in the position of the employer. How are pensioners to fight for their rights unless they combine together? If they combine together, what is the result? An individual case is taken which may settle a hundred claims instead of the claims of a hundred individuals being settled separately and perhaps differently. They are, therefore, entitled to combine together, and, seeing that they are entitled to combine together, how are they to operate? After all, a vote in this House can only be effective if you can get a majority for it. If you only get a minority, the vote is not carried. A man is only elected if he can get a majority. These men, at the time of an election, 393 have to see as far as they can that Members are returned to this House who will see that they will get adequate pensions, that they are always received with consideration, and that nothing is done to hamper or to hinder them. I do not say that they ought to support this or that body, but those men, if any men, have a right to combine together to get the most that they can out of their empoyer, the State. The widows and the children and the wounded men have a perfect right to combine together, and no matter what we may do in this House these people will support—I do not say this party or that party—the party that will see that they are adequately and properly rewarded. I do not care for the Motion that has been put down. From the point of view of the State, the Motion is a good one, but from the point of view of the men I say, "Organise, and when the War is over see that the good feeling that has been shown during the War continues."
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The few Members who have listened to my hon. Friend who has just sat down will agree that the speech which he has delivered, unlike others, has, at least, some relation to the realities of the situation. So far as our discussion this afternoon and the Motion to which we are speaking have any reality, they constitute a vote of censure upon my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge). Otherwise, the Motion is simply the expression of a pious platitude which will have absolutely no effect upon the course of future political events. We have had a great deal of discussion of the history of politics in pensions and of the genesis of this particular Motion, but after all that has been said there are a certain number of points that are still obscure. The hon. Member for Salford (Sir M. Barlow) gave a very flattering testimonial to my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh, and, after it, my hon. Friend might very well ask why he was kicked downstairs. The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Pennefather), who is a great pundit on the Parliamentary Pensions Committee, also endeavoured to elucidate the history, but all that he could point out was that it was a Liberal who nominated the successful competitor of my hon. Friend, the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Sunderland (Sir Hamar Greenwood). I think that 394 possibly offers a clue. There are today two organisations appealing to and consisting of discharged soldiers and sailors. One of these associations is largely identified with my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh. It was acquiring great strength in the country, and many fears were expressed as to the effects of its activities. Straightway a rival organisation was formed, patronised by Ministerial M.P.'s—I am not talking about Liberals or Conservatives—and supported by funds which are used very largely by way of largesse. It was in the interests of these rival organisations that the movement was engineered on the Parliamentary Pensions Committee to evict my hon. Friend from his post. It was done secretly. No notice was given to anybody that there would be any opposition to my hon. Friend when he stood for re-election. He happened to have an engagement in the country at the time of the meeting, and in his absence, without notice, although he had really been the founder of the bureau, he was ejected from it, and that is what hon. Members in this House have euphemistically described as his withdrawal from the committee. It seems to me that my hon. Friend was right in regarding that as a political move. It was a political move, and it is the utmost cant and hypocrisy for the hon. Member for Salford, the hon. Member opposite, and all the other hon. Members representing that bureau, to say that there was no political motive inspiring that action. Why therefore clothe ourselves in cant? We have the British Workers' League, which has already been referred to on two occasions to-day. I have in my hand the report of that institution, and I wish to read this striking paragraph:The Naval and Military Information and Advice Bureau, inaugurated is August, 1916, has dealt with considerably over 2,000 applications with reference to pensions, separation allowances, final settlements, and other difficulties experienced by soldiers and sailors and their dependants and friends. Over 900 pensions or increases have been obtained for men who had served their country at the expense of their health and limbs and who had been discharged with no pension at all or a miserable pittance obviously inadequate. Several hundred cases have been dealt with where there was delay in receiving separation allowances, or where the amount was inaccurate. Seven families can boast of roofs over their heads, thanks to our successful efforts, when landlords or their agents were threatening eviction. The scandal of pensions maladministration was getting so acute in the autumn of 1916 that the committee decided to inaugurate a campaign to 395 demand seven definite reforms. These were embodied in our 'Broken Warriors' Petition of Rights,' but, as signatures were rapidly coming in the late Government fell—The late Government was guilty of all these things—and with a prospect of more humane treatment for broken heroes, the committee did not press the campaign. It is satisfactory to know that practically all our demands are met in the Warrant now before Parliament. This is a definite result of which the league may be well pleased; and thanks are due for the loyal cooperation of our branch secretaries, many of whom have spent a great deal of time they could ill-afford in this great and worthy cause.The president of the organisation that issues this report is the Pensions Minister (Mr. Hodge). The vice-president is the hon. Gentleman who is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Shipping Controller (Sir L. Chiozza Money). Another hon. Gentleman connected with the organisation is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board (Mr. Walsh). There are three members of the Ministry, three office bearers, associated with the political organisation making this appeal, and yet we have the Leader of the House to-day getting up and talking cheap political morality about political influences in connection with pensions. If that is the view of the Government, why does he not get his colleagues in the Government out of this base and immoral institution? If he does not do it, he has no right to vote for this Motion. If he fails to do it and he does vote for this Motion, his action is sheer hypocrisy. This is not the first time that we have had politics in connection with soldiers' pensions. I remember the South African War. I remember the election of 1900. We are going to have a repetition of the 1900 election in November this year. We are going to have another khaki election. How was it done then? How was the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association exploited for the purposes of that election? Everybody who had anything to do with the election in that year knows the extent to which candidates, mainly of the Conservative party, used that association which was distributing bounties to the dependants of soldiers and sailors for the purpose of obtaining votes. Yet we have members of that party to-day holding up their hands in horror at the idea of soldiers' pensions being exploited for party purposes. There is an instance fresh in our minds. It is only a few days since that we had a Vote of Credit in this House. On the first day of 396 the discussion on that Vote of Credit an arrangement was made to break in on the general Debate. Who was to break in? The Leader of the Labour party. What was the subject? Increased separation allowances for the dependants of soldiers and sailors. It was nicely arranged. There was a Ministerial reply arranged that a Cabinet Commitee was to consider the matter. The following week there was a meeting of the Labour party, and a resolution was passed thanking the leader of the party for the success of his efforts in pressing the question of increased separation allowances upon the Government. The people who were parties to all these things now express their horror at exploiting the interests of the soldiers and sailors for political purposes.
Let the hon. Members who have put this Motion down withdraw it from the Paper. Let them show some sense of reality, and do not let them stand in this hypocritical attitude. Nobody will be deceived. The people outside are not such fools as to believe that a Resolution of this kind is going to do anything, nor are they going to believe all these professions about political morality. It is merely a pious Resolution You cannot get a Regulation under the Defence of the Realm Act to enforce it. It is not one of the things which come under that very far-reaching and wide-spreading measure. I have no doubt that some hon. Members would be very glad if they could pray in aid the Defence of the Realm Act, but a Resolution of this House is going to have no effect. Undoubtedly after this War the whole question of the scale of pensions and of the administration of pensions is going to bulk largely in elections. We cannot avoid it. You have taken the greater part of the adult manhood of the country into the Army. You have ruined many of them. Apart from bodily suffering, there are men who will never be restored to the positions which they formerly occupied in civil life. There is no provision for these men. Do not you think that they will demand it, these men whom you have taken into the Army, whom you had no right to take, men who were never fit to become soldiers, men whom you have ruined, and men who will never get back to their old positions in life? There is no provision for them in any Pensions Warrant. A form is sent down to the local pensions committee 397 saying, "This man's disability is not attributable to or aggravated by his service. He was inadequately examined."
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have already ruled that those matters are not relevant either to the Motion or to the Amendment.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I thought that it was always allowable to take a single illustration to prove a case. It is the only illustration that I intended to use to prove that politics cannot be eliminated. It was a case which, up to the present time, had not been dealt with, and I am surely entitled to say that, if it is not dealt with, it is undoubtedly going to be the cause of making this Resolution nugatory. I have no desire to amplify it further. I have put the case, and I think it is a fair argument on behalf of the position I am taking up. I have certainly no desire to trespass on any Rule of this House, but the case I was putting was a great deal more relevant than a discussion of the iniquities of the American pension system since the Civil War. If we had been passing a resolution of censure upon the American authorities, some of the speeches we have had to-day would have been quite in order. However, I will not pursue that subject. Everybody is aware that there are powerful organisations representing the discharged men which are now at work in this country, and that those organisations are competing with one another. I have had some association with one of them, and I have on every occasion advised this particular organisation to have no connection whatever with any political party, because, personally, I do not know with which political party I shall be associated. At the present moment nobody knows what political parties there are going to be in existence in the future. Liberal means nothing nowadays, Conservative means nothing, Unionist means nothing, and Labour means nothing. We are in a state of flux. But whenever parties can be reformed, it is as certain as anything can be that one of the questions which will largely affect the success of parties and the formation of parties will be this very question of the treatment of the discharged man, and of the dependants of those who have made the great sacrifice in this War.
Why should it be such a heinous sin for these people who have risked all for their country to try to get the best they 398 can? You have had various classes of workers coming to this House and seeking for minimum wages. We have already had an auction of the minimum wage for agricultural labour—for people who have not gone to the War at all. You have had the Government giving 12½ per cent. to the munition workers. Is not that a political move? You will have all sorts of other classes making use of political influence for the purpose of improving their economic position, and you will have political parties competing against each other for the support of these people. Is it the intention, or, if it is the intention, can it possibly be the effect of a Resolution of this House to lay a ban upon the actions of this the most deserving class of the community? These are the considerations to be faced. I am firmly of opinion that, whether you pass it or not, it will make no difference. It is not going to affect the action of the British Workers' League. It is not going to affect the action of the Labour party under the inspiration of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), and it is not going to abolish the Liberal party's pension bureau. Indeed, the Liberal party has little enough now in the way of political assets, and in these circumstances it would be suicidal for them to adandon this action. If you passed a hundred Resolutions, it would be futile to expect them to discard it. What is the question for this House? The underlying motive in this Resolution is that if political action becomes operative it will introduce into this country a far-reaching, deep-rooted, widespread system of corruption, such as never before existed. I believe it is that which has inspired all the copybook maxims of morality we have heard this afternoon. Has this House clean hands in the matter? A question was put to the Prime Minister the other day as to how many Members of this House had received titles or offices since this Government came into existence, and the answer was that there were 288. It does not seem to me to lie with the House, 288 of whose Members have received what I may call inducements of that kind, to pass platitudinously righteous Resolutions regarding the possible corruptibility of the heroes who have fought for us. I desire respectfully to ask the House to face the facts. It is surely worth our while to be quite honest both with ourselves and with the country. This is not an honest Resolution. Everybody knows that it is bound to be futile and ineffective. There is every 399 reason why it should be futile and ineffective. This House has on many grounds lost all claim to represent the people of this country. It is a moribund, senile, unrepresentative Assembly. Its mandate was long ago exhausted. It will only be adding to the deep discredit into which it has fallen with the great body of the people of this country if it passes this fatuous, futile, and canting Resolution.
§ Mr. RAFFAN rose——400
§ Sir M. BARLOW rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put accordingly, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 132; Noes, 34.399
|Division No. 60.]||AYES.||7.58 p.m.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Gardner, Ernest||Morison, Thomas B. (Inverness)|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Geddes, Rt. Hon. Sir E. (Cambridge)||Mount, William Arthur|
|Astor, Major Hon. Waldorf||Gibbs, Col. George Abraham||Needham, Christopher Thomas|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. John||Newman, Major J. R. P. (Enfield)|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. George N.||Greer, Harry||Newman, Sir Robert (Exeter)|
|Barnett, Capt. Richard W.||Greig, Colonel James William||Nicholson, Sir Chas. N. (Doncaster)|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Guinness, Hon. W. E. (Bury St. Ed.)||Nicholson, Wm. G. (Petersfield)|
|Barton, Sir William||Hall, D. B. (Isle of Wight)||Norton-Griffiths, Sir John|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Hambro, Angus Valdemar||Palmer, Godfrey Mark|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence (Ashford)||Parker, James (Halifax)|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Luton, Beds)||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Benn, Sir Arthur S. (Plymouth)||Harris, Sir H. P. (Paddington, S.)||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Bigland, Alfred||Haslam, Lewis||Peto, Basil Edward|
|Bird, Alfred||Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry||Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur Griffith-||Henry, Sir Charles (Shropshire)||Pryce-Jones, Col. E.|
|Boyton, Sir James||Hewins, William Albert S.||Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)|
|Brace, Rt. Hen. William||Hickman, Brig.-Gen. Thomas E.||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Hills, John Waller (Durham)||Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)|
|Broughton, Urban Hanlon||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Samuels, Arthur W. (Dub. U.)|
|Bryce, John Annan||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Sanders, Col. Robert Arthur|
|Bull, Rt. Hen. Sir William James||Hope, Harry (Bute)||Sherwell, Arthur James|
|Butcher, Sir J. G.||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Smith, Harold (Warrington)|
|Carew, Charles R. S. (Tiverton)||Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. A. (Midlothian)||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Hope, John Deans (Haddington)||Stanier, Capt. Sir Beville|
|Cator, John||Horne, Edgar||Starkey, John Ralph|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Hunter, Maj. Sir Chas. Rodk.||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, W.)|
|Cave, Rt. Hon. Sir George||Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East)||Talbot, Rt. Hon. Lord Edmund|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Jones. Wm. Kennedy (Hornsey)||Tickler, Thomas George|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Jones, Wm. S. Glyn- (Stepney)||Tootill, Robert|
|Chapple, Dr. William Allen||Joynson-Hicks, William||Tryon, Capt. George Clement|
|Clyde, James Avon||Kellaway, Frederick George||Walker, Col. W. H.|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward F.||Larmor, Sir Joseph||Walton, Sir Joseph|
|Coats, Sir Stuart (Wimbledon)||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle)||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Colvin, Col.||Levy, Sir Maurice||Weston, John W.|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Whiteley, Sir H. J. (Droitwich)|
|Currie, G. W.||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Dalrymple, Hon. H. H.||Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs. N.)|
|Dalziel, Davison (Brixton)||Lowe, Sir F. W.||Wilson-Fox, Henry (Tamworth)|
|Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Wood, Hon. E. F. L. (Yorks, Ripon)|
|Denniss, Edmund R. Bartley||Mackinder Halford J.||Wood, Sir John (Stalybridge)|
|Du Cros, Sir Arthur Philip||Macmaster, Donald||Yate, Col. Charles Edward|
|Du Pre, Major W. Baring||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Younger, Sir George|
|Fell, Sir Arthur||Mason, Robert|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes (Fulham)||Money, Sir L. G. Chlozza||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Foster, Philip Staveley||Montagu, Rt. Hon. E. S.||Sir M. Barlow and Sir G. Toulmin.|
|Ainsworth, Sir John Stirling||Marshall, Arthur Harold||Sutherland, John E.|
|Arnold, Sydney||Millar, James Duncan||Trevelyan, Charles philips|
|Clough, William||Molteno, Percy Alport||Watt Henry A.|
|Davies, Ellis William (Eifton)||Morrell, Philip||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Glanville, Harold James||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)||Wiles, Rt. Hon. Thomas|
|Henderson. J. M. (Aberdeen, W.)||Raffan, Peter Wilson||Wilkie, Alexander|
|Jowett, Frederick William||Rea, Walter Russell||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Kiley, James Daniel||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)||Wing, Thomas Edward|
|King, Joseph||Pichardson, Arthur (Rotherham)||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)|
|Lambert, Richard (Cricklade)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter (D'sbury)|
|M'Callum, Sir John M.||Runciman, Sir Walter (Hartlepool)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)||Smallwood, Edward||Mr. Hogge and Mr. Pringle|
Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
That, in the interests alike of the State and of the wounded and discharged sailors and soldiers and their dependants, and of the widows and orphans of those who have fallen, it is essential that all questions relating to Pensions and Allowances should be kept free from party polities and the influence of party organisations.