§ Mr. BANTON
I beg to move,That, in the opinion of this House, the provisions of the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1920, are inadequate in meeting the case of the Navy and Army pensioner, who has been unable to save during the period of his employment by the State, and who, after long periods of service in all parts of the British Empire, has been thrown on the labour market unskilled, and often broken down in health and unfit to work; and further that, in the opinion of this House, the Government should take immediate steps to apply the Jerram scheme to all naval pensioners on the rolls, as recommended by Article 51 of the Jerram Report, and Army Order No. 325/19, to all men of the Army pensioned from the Army prior to 4th August, 1914.It may seem very strange that 1, a civilian, and not a military man, should be bringing forward a Motion of this kind. I am doing it because I know there are a great number in this House who agree that there is a large body of men in this country who have served the country to the best of their ability and who, at the present time, are not being rewarded in the manner one would desire. Be they military men or other men, I will always raise my voice in their favour. I hold that this House more than any other Assembly ought to see that justice is done to men who, for a number of years, have served their country faithfully and well and in such a way that they deserve far better treatment than is actually meted out to them. The condition of these old men is a reflection on our sense of honour, gratitude and justice. Injustice may be wrought by ignorance, but ignorance may be removed by knowledge, and I hope, at the conclusion of this Debate, no Member of this House will be in the position of not knowing what is the condition of these men and who are responsible for it. With 467 regard to honour, it is the highest sense of justice that the human mind can frame, and so in the name of justice and honour we claim that these men are entitled to the consideration of this House. On these grounds I venture to bring this Motion before the House.
In the early days of these old veterans, the legislation of trade unionism greatly changed the status of the workmen in civilian life, but the service men who were called to serve their country were neglected. Their very loyalty and discipline were exploited by the State. Their condition remained unchanged in spite of the great change that was taking place amongst their own relatives and those with whom they had worked in former days. The King's shilling remained the same. It always remained at that one shilling, and discipline demanded that these men should in no form combine to raise their status. It was not theirs to reason why, not theirs to make reply, theirs was to do and die and the State neglected their just claim. We are now living in an age of inquiry and unrest. That spirit crept into the minds of the pensioners. A dangerous position crept in. The Government became nervous, comparisons were being made between the treatment meted out to them and their pay and the pay and treatment of other people, an agitation was set on foot in which to their credit the officers joined, and it was claimed on behalf of the men who had served loyally and well on the battlefield that they should be better rewarded. The result of the agitation was the appointment of a special Committee in January, 1919, presided over by Admiral Sir Marten Jerram, and the Committee was appointed to consider and report on the pay, allowances and pensions of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. The Committee went very fully into the matter and reported to this House. Army pensions were also reported on in a similar way, and Clause 51 of the Report laid it down:The revised scales of pensions to apply to all pensioners now on the rolls, in consideration of the increased cost of living and the higher standard of comfort normally aimed at.An Army Committee also sat to consider Army pensions. Most of the recommendations of the Committee were 468 adopted by the Government, the Admiralty and the War Office. On this Clause 51 the Government laid it down thatThe revised scales will apply as from the 1st April, 1919, to all future pensioners, all pensioners now serving and all who have served during the War, including those serving in a civilian capacity under the Government, who although under 55 years of age and therefore liable to serve during hostilities were retained in their civilian employment. The revised scales will not apply to other pensioners.It is these other pensioners for whom I am speaking. Is is not a strange irony that the Government, realising the value of men in the crisis of our country, should forget the services of other men who had served so loyally in past years? As I have said, the recommendations of this Committee were accepted in the main, and we are pleading to-day for the men who were exempted from the operation of those recommendations. Lord Lee of Fareham has described these men as the most loyal, law-abiding, and anti-revolutionary of any section of the community—the very salt of the earth. Yet they have been left in this position. They have not had an opportunity of mixing with their fellow men in the industrial world. They have not been allowed to organise and they were often called upon to fight against those who have sent us on these benches to Parliament. Many a time during past days they were called upon to subdue an apparent riot or possible disorder, and now we are called upon to fight their battle. Who and what are these men? They were young men of good character in the main, of good physique and stamina. They were the pick of the nation's manhood drawn into a blind alley employment, after long service which, as a rule, unfitted them for industrial life, having obtained civilian employment they were always on a lower rate of wage than other men in the labour market. Even the Government itself, when it did employ men of this type as messengers, etc., paid them at the rate of 18s. to 21s. per week, while other men, drawn from civilian life, doing similar work, were paid at the rate of £100 to £150 per year. This discrimination, again, is a disgrace to any Government which adopts such measures. The services rendered by these men took them into foreign and often unhealthy climates. 469 They contracted malaria and other diseases, making them in many cases prematurely aged; and now numbers of young men, physically strong, disbanded from the Army, are displacing these old men in the labour market. There is no room for them, and they are rapidly drifting—as all Members of this House must be aware, because they have been appealed to, undoubtedly, by these men many times—they are drifting into the workhouses. There are very few workhouses in our land in which you will not find some of these old veterans, who have fought the battles of their country, fighting their battles over again, but with a sense of bitterness that the country for which they fought has so scantily rewarded them, their pensions being inadequate to keep them alive.
I have been more than once appealed to to write to the Chelsea Hospital Commissioners to obtain assistance for these men. I have in mind in particular one old chap who appealed for my sympathy and assistance. I wrote, and they very generously offered him a home in Chelsea Hospital; but the old man said, "I was not born yesterday. If I go there I shall be among strangers, I shall be buried among strangers, and no friends will visit me. I will go to the workhouse instead. There, any way, I can be visited by my friends, and I can occasionally visit them." But think of the disgrace. Idealist and anti-militarist as I am, I feel that it is a disgrace, and I have to carry the burden of that disgrace myself. The scale that has been drawn up, as I have mentioned, is not on the extravagant side. No one can accuse the Jerram Committee of wasting the resources of their country in a riotous manner. I have here a comparative statement of the maximum pre-War rates of pay and pension for the lower grades of the Navy, Army, Police and Civil Service. The ordinary seaman, in pre-War days, on non-continuous service, received in pay 7s. 7d. per week, with no pension, because non-continuous service meant that he enlisted for the period of a ship's commission. The ordinary seaman on continuous service, serving 10 or 12 years, received the magnificent sum of 8s. 9d. per week, out of which he had to provide himself with uniform and other clothing, including boots—and they were often besought when going on shore to be careful how 470 they spent their money. The continuous service man who had served the number of years I have mentioned received the magnificent sum of 5s. 10d. per week as pension upon which to maintain himself, and, frequently, to maintain his wife and children. The private in the Army had the magnificent sum of 9s. 4d. per week, and his pension would amount to 7s. 7d.
Let us compare this with the civil servant. The postman would be receiving 34s. 3d. per week. I am not complaining for one moment of the amount granted to the postman in comparison; I am only using these figures in order to distinguish between the treatment meted out to the man who fights your battles and the man who serves you in a civil capacity. The postman would receive 34s. 3d. per week, retiring upon two-thirds of his wage, that is to say, 23s. 6d. The police constable would receive 33s., retiring upon 22s. In these cases uniform was provided, and, in the case of the policeman, house allowance also. The retort may be that these men in the Civil Service had to provide their own homes and maintain those homes. Well and good. The seaman and the soldier were provided with lodging, clothing and food. But, on retiring, the soldier or the seaman had to provide his own home, and he had to maintain his dependents. Why should there be this differentiation between the two services who have served the country in their respective capacities? The pay of a non-continuous service able-bodied seaman was raised to 1s. per day in 1797. In 1904 it was 1s. 4d. per day. There was an increase in 117 years of 4d. per day, and we still survived. In the case of the naval pensioners, their handsome pension was based upon ½d. a day for each completed year of service, with a maximum of tenpence—for fear that he might, perhaps, become a capitalist, and compete against others in the State. To this a further 4d. might be added where the man was in possession of three good conduct badges and a good conduct medal, and had an uninterrupted series of very good awards for character throughout his Service career. There were very good men in the Service, undoubtedly, but we find that very few of them lived long enough to receive this magnificent sum. There is a theory afloat that the very good die young, so that very few of these men are dependent upon the State at the present time.
§ Mr. BANTON
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, speaking in the House of Commons on the 21st February last, with regard to Civil Service pensions, stated that for a postman to be r tired on 20s. a week would be a disgrace to the nation, and we agreed. But many Navy and Army pensioners have pensions of 7s. to 10s. 6d. per week, and this includes the 50 per cent. increase under the Act of 1920. Comparisons, they say, are odious. I have another note here which is very interesting, showing the services rendered by these men and the different parts of the world in which they have served. It is interesting to note what they have done for their country. There are men living to-day, with this princely income, who served as far back as 1854—who served in the Crimea.. There are men who served in the Indian Mutiny, in China, New Zealand, and Japan. Coming to the period which I can recollect, there are men who fought in the Abyssinian War at Magdala, in the Ashanti War at Coomassie, in the Zulu War, in Burma, Egypt, Benin, in the Sudan at Omdurman and Khartoum, in South Africa, and in Somaliland. These are only a few, but they will give you an idea what services they have rendered. But there is another thought that comes into my mind of the extent of territory that these men did the rough-and-tumble work to acquire and add to our Empire. I am not very great on that theme. There are differences of opinion as to the value of an Empire, but, this House, in the main, believes in a large Empire. You believe there are many great. advantages to be derived from having this Empire, and we have paid dearly for it, but it was only invested with the idea of having good returns. You are proud of the men who conceived the idea of a large Empire. You see their marble busts, you read of them in history books, and their names will be handed down to posterity. They have been honoured. But the men who did the rough-and-tumble work and the dangerous work are living in the workhouse and are in a condition of penury.
I make a plea to those who believe in this large Empire, who believe that it should provide us with the raw material that is necessary to carry on our great 472 manufactures, that we may still retain that proud position of being the commercial centre of the world. Without those lands providing raw materials we should be helpless. I make the plea to them that they should give support a little more generously to pay those men who underwent all those dangers and privations to acquire that land for us. There are those who believe in the great mineral resources that we have taken control of, and for which we spent much blood and treasure. Remember also the markets for our goods. There are hon. Members in this House who realise the value of those markets; and would still more extend them. You believe in your theory. Believing, in it then, reward the men who have founded the Empire for you. Millionaires can now be counted in great numbers who have profited by this Empire, and we appeal to them. There is an Amendment on the Paper which alludes to the present financial stress and burden. The same story was told when these recommendations were first brought forward. It was then inopportune, although money could be found and spent riotously by the thousand millions. The time never is opportune. I have lived long enough to know that when the plea goes forward for the workers in the Army, or the Navy, or in the industrial world, the opportune time never arrives. So I make the plea to our sense of decency that gratitude be extended on behalf of these men. Make amends for the many years they have been neglected and bring comfort, if comfort can be brought, in their old age to these men, many of whom are now suffering the racks and pains of disease which they have contracted, that their last days may be spent amongst their friends and their children. So we make the plea, knowing full well the difficult financial position the Government is in. It will not be a great burden, and it will not last for many years. Year by year these men are a diminishing number, and in 10 years it will have disappeared entirely. The burden will not be placed upon your shoulders for ever. Give these men the same terms you gave to the men who served in your late War, the Jernam Report, and that is all they ask for.
Major-General Sir J. DAVIDSON
I beg to second the Motion. I will not go into a detailed recapitulation of the his- 473 tory of what has been done for these men. A number of letters have been sent to various Ministers pressing their case and replies have been received turning it down. A number of deputations have been received with no result. The Jerram Committee definitely recommended that an increased scale of pensions should be applicable to all pensioners. The Treasury turned it down. The matter was further raised at the beginning of 1920 when the police pensions question was brought up in the House, and the Government was defeated, with the result that, after all this agitation, a Bill was brought in and the Pensions Increase Act. was passed, which gave a maximum of 50 per cent. increase to existing pre-War pensions, with certain income limitations—in the case of married men £200 a year and unmarried men £150 a year. I propose, in the first instance, to confine my remarks to the case of the pre-War pensioners of the Army and Navy only. All these men are over 00 years of age. Take the case of the Navy. Any man of 55 or less was called up in 1914 and therefore participated in the new rate of pensions. Therefore, if he was over 55, it follows that now he will be over 63. Many of these men are drawing pensions, after a period of service of 21 or 22 years or more, of round about 10s. to 11s. a week. These men have served many years abroad, and the natural result of long service in a tropical and unhealthy climate is that the majority of them are infirm and are quite unable to do any sort of manual work at all. They are really unemployable. In addition to that, these old men are men of good character, for if they were not they would not have been allowed to extend and prolong their service. In addition, the majority of them are men who have served in one or more campaigns, fighting their country's battles in various parts of the world. During the best time of their lives, that is, from the age of 20 to 40, they have been completely out of touch with the labour market.
With the pensions they are given at present they are on the verge of starvation, or on the verge of going into the workhouse. It is quite obvious that they have been unable to save. Their pay has been incredibly small. I should like those hon. Members who have no experience of service in the Army or the Navy to realise 474 what these men got and what they paid out of their own pockets. They got in the neighbourhood of a shilling, perhaps a little more, and out of that they had to pay extra messing to supplement their meagre rations. In addition to that they had to pay for extra clothing out of the 1s., and, further, their last meal in the day was at four o'clock in the afternoon, when they got tea and a lump of bread. They had to pay for their own suppers out of their own pockets. What was left of the Is. wherewith to save? Nothing at all. Saving was quite out of the question. I want to emphasise a fact that was brought out by my hon. Friend who has moved the Resolution, that the pay of these men was raised in 1797, when there was trouble at Spithcad. Pay has always been raised in the Army and the Navy either owing to trouble or in consequence of war. During the whole of the 117 years that followed 1797 their pay was only raised 4d. a day, while the pay of the ordinary civilian in private life was practically doubled. I should like to point out what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty on this matter. He saidThe increases granted were a very tardy recognition of obligations that should have been met long before the outbreak of War.The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, in speaking of the pension of a postman, said:The full pension on which he could retire at 60, after 40 years' service, including pension on bonus, was £1 18s. Had it not been for the scheme of pension on bonus, such a postman would have been retired with 20s. a. week, which would have been a disgrace.I hope the House will mark those words, for I shall have cause to refer to them again. It may be said that there is very little to be said for these old pensioners, because when they contracted to serve they knew what they were in for in the way of pension. I ask the House whether the contract of an employé in civil life, in view of the increased cost of living, has been adhered to, and whether the employé has been held down to his previous contract. Of course he has not. His pay has been increased, and if it has not been increased, he has entered into negotiations, or gone on strike, to secure increase of pay. How could these Army and Navy pensioners take similar action? Not only could they not do it, but they had no intention and no wish to do 475 it. It must be admitted on all sides that these men have used a lawful form of pressure to get what is due to them, and to get justice, and that the State has not done its honourable duty by them.
What we are asking for to-night is that the Jerram recommendations should be carried out so far as the Army and Navy pre-War pensioners are concerned. So far as I can estimate the cost, it will be somewhere about £500,000 for the current financial year, disappearing in 10 years. These pensioners do not want this to be retrospective. They do not want to go back to the year 1919. Therefore, the State has economised at the expense of these old soldiers and sailors by at least £1,500,000. When I am asked whether the £500,000 is a correct figure I can only say what the War Office and the Admiralty have said in reply to questions. The War Office said:It is not possible to answer this question accurately without making a special investigation, but on the information available, and making some allowance for a corresponding saving in old age pensions, the cost for Army pensioners in 1922–23 would be between £300,000 and £400,000.If we make allowance for the Pensions (Increase) Act, we can take the cost at a lower figure. The Admiralty replied:The net additional expense during 1922–23 would be about £180,000.Therefore I calculate that the total cost would be something under £500,000 for the first year.
I wish to anticipate certain objections which will be raised by the Government in regard to this Resolution. The first of these is the question of economy. I am not going to deal at length with this point. Everybody realises the necessity for economy, and I am thoroughly seized of that point, but I do not think it is honourable, either on the part of the country or of the Government, or of this House, that economy should be effected at the expense of these old soldiers and sailors. It may be argued that we have taken no notice of the officers. We are most anxious to assist the officers. We fully recognise the difficult position in which they are placed, but we do not want to compromise our action in regard to the more needy portion, the rank and file, by including the officers, and I believe the officers, if they knew that they were going to compromise the position 476 of the rank and file, would be the first to ask to be kept out. The third point is that there are pre-War pensioners of the Army who avoided military service in the Great War. They were of an age when they might have been of value from the military point of view, but they preferred to go into munition factories and to get large emoluments. We have no case for those men, and we are perfectly prepared for the Government to eliminate them.
Then there is a last and most vital objection, and that is, that if we raise the pre-War pensions of the Army and Navy men we shall be involved in the question of having to raise the pre-War pensions of the police and civil servants. The position of these classes is not on all fours with the position of the Army and the Navy pre-War pensioners. A private in the Army had pay of 9s. 4d. and a pension of 7s. 7d. a week, while the constable got pay of 33s. and a pension of 22s. for approximately the same length of service. The Army and Navy rates were less than one-third of the other rates. Notwithstanding this, one Minister says that the pay ought to have been raised long ago, and another Minister says that a pension of £1 a week for a postman is a disgrace. What about these old soldiers and sailors who have served their country in every part of the world? Does he say that their pension of 10s. or 11s. a week is a disgrace? It is doubly a disgrace, and this is the first class of pension that ought to have been rectified. I do not understand where any justice or equity can come into this case at. all. If it is argued, "We gave the Pensions Increase Act," my reply is that that, in a sense, has made things worse. You get an Army pre-War pensioner with a pension of 7s. a week and you give him a 50 per cent. increase to 10s. 6d. You give a constable with a pre-War pension of 20s. a week a 50 per cent. increase and you bring his pay up to 33s. That increases the disparity between the two rather than lessens it.
The whole question of State pay and pensions is in a fog, a mud lie. There is no relation to principle or justice in it. It was merely patchwork before the War, and legislation since the War has rendered it infinitely worse. Why is the British Empire in existence to-day? It is because of these old men, yet one would think from the Government's 477 action that it was in spite of them. I believe that the vast majority of the people of this country are in favour of these old men getting a better pension in their old age. I have been in communication with that powerful body, the British Legion, who thoroughly support this Motion, and I shall be glad to read two letters which I have received from the President of the British Legion.
The President, Field-Marshal Lord Haig, writes:I understand that the position of pre-War pensioners is to be brought before the House of Commons for consideration on 17th May. I trust that you and your colleagues will be successful in your endeavour to improve the financial condition of these old soldiers and sailors. I realise that some improvement was secured by the provisions of the Pensions (Increase) Act, but this is not sufficient. In my opinion it is the duty of the country to see that our old soldiers and sailors are not reduced to a difficult and hard existence below the poverty line after serving their country for many years abroad and in one or more campaigns. It is only equitable and fair that their pensions should be raised to the same level as that in force for other pensioners, and their case is the more urgent, seeing they are for the most part unemployable owing to their age and infirmity. You state that the cost for the current year would be less than £500,000 and that this cost will diminish annually, and disappear in 10 years' time. I am impressed, as indeed everyone must be, by the urgent necessity for economy, but I do not consider it right or fair that economy should he obtained at the expense of these old warriors who have fought for their country but are unable to fight for themselves.I have also a short letter from the Chairman of the British Legion, Mr. T. M. Lister:My dear Sir,—I am pleased to hear that in consequence of your activity the position of pre-War pensioners of the Army and Navy is being raised in the House of Commons on the 17th inst. As you know, the unjust way in which old pre-War pensioners have been treated has created a lot of feeling, and as Chairman of the Legion ' I would like to express appreciation of your action, and T trust that your efforts to apply the Jerram scheme to all naval pensioners will meet with success. It is of course very necessary at the present time that strict economy should he practised in public affairs, but when a ease of injustice is presented like the case of pre-War pensioners I am sure that it is the desire of the country to act in a reasonable and fair manner.I do appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to the Government not to bang and bolt the doors on these men. I do appeal to them to give some hope 478 of doing something now and not later on. If they do something later on many of them will not be alive to enjoy it. The average age of these men is over 60 years and probably nearer 70 years. Personally, I consider it a dishonourable thing —I use the word advisedly—for this country and for this House to allow these men, who fought their country's battles in various parts of the world, and served long periods abroad, to exist on the poverty line or to be forced into the workhouse.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HURST
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordswhile recognising the sacrifices required from pre-War pensioners of the Navy and Army, among others, by the rise in the cost of living that accompanied the War, this House, in view of the serious state of national finance, of the heavy burdens of the taxpayer, and of the fall in the cost of living that has taken place since the Pensions (Increase) Act of 1920, is not at the moment prepared to reopen the settlement made by that Act.9.0 P.M.
I recognise that it is an ungracious function which I am called on to perform this evening, because the House will have listened with the greatest sympathy to the case made so admirably by the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution. I recognise fully the humanity and good feeling which have characterised the speeches of both hon. Members. The first criticism which I will make on the Resolution has already occurred to the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson), and must occur to most people who look at this question dispassionately in the light of the circumstances in which we are living. That is, that the pre-War pensioner of the Army and Navy is not an isolated class. He is not alone among the great mass of pensioners in the country. The House knows very well that if the concession asked for by this Resolution were adopted, similar concessions would be asked for by all the other classes of State pensioners in the country. It would not be human nature if they did not ask for similar concessions.
We have heard in Debate on more than one occasion the excellent case which can be made out for old age pensioners, and it has been pointed out how hard it is for men and women who have been thrifty 479 in early life to be debarred from receiving old age pensions. Their case is just as strong in its way as the case of the pre-War soldier or sailor. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The case would become even stronger if the concession asked by this Resolution were granted by this House. Then take the case of ex-teachers. I do not know whether hon. Members are familiar with the extremely hard lot in which teachers who happen to have retired before the Act of 1918, those who are called in the teaching profession the Old Guard, are placed. The condition of many of these retired teachers is most miserable. They live on mere pittances. They worked hard at a most exacting profession all their lives, and now they find themselves in the same straits as the pre-War Army and Navy pensioner.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HURST
It varies according to their pay. There is no hard and fast pension, but I have come across cases where the amounts were 10s., 12s. 6d., or 15s. a week. The amounts vary according to the districts in which the teachers worked and the stipends which they were receiving at the date of their retirement. I do not want to go into the question in detail, but a great many of the retired teachers live in great penury. They have been agitating for many years for an increase in their pensions, and it is only human nature that if any considerable increase is given to Army and Navy pensioners these retired teachers will—
§ Lieut.-Colonel HURST
No, that is not so. The class of pensioners for whom this appeal is made is one of many classes of pensioners, all of whom have suffered from the diminished purchasing value of money, but each class regards its own case as the most poignant. Therefore, if this concession were granted it would stimulate a greatly increased demand on the part of other pensioners. [HON. MEMBERS "Why not?"] Another point. Not only is this class of pensioners not an isolated one among the general mass of pensioners, but it is not isolated from a great mass of people who are not 480 pensioners at all. I remember that a short time ago, when the question of the Post Office pensions was raised, and it was pointed out how small those pensions were, I was struck by the reply, in the form of a great many letters to local newspapers, by people who had worked hard all their lives in civil occupations, and found themselves with no pension at all in their old age. It is true that they may have had an opportunity of earning more during their working days, and that their savings may have brought them in £1 or 30s. or £2 a week. The purchasing power of their savings has however been reduced just as has the purchasing power of pensions. There is an enormous number of persons who have worked hard and are now without pensions or any savings whatever. In fact, the number of aged poor and of elderly poor in this country is so enormous that, if this Resolution were carried, it would mean the selecting of one small section out of the great mass of the poor, and adding to their maintenance at the cost of the rest of the population, many of whom are just as near the poverty line as those for whom this benefit is asked.
Since the Jerram Report and the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1920, two things have happened. First, the purchasing value of money has increased, and, secondly, the well-being of the rest of the population, among whom the pensioners are living, has obviously and materially diminished. There is no doubt that these soldiers and sailors who live among the poor are to-day in surroundings where the ordinary family is considerably worse off than it was in 1919–1920. In order to raise the money which is required to meet the cost of these pensions, or of any other pensions, we can do one of two things. We have either to borrow it, for which I suppose no one will speak, or we have to raise it by taxation. At present the vital need of our country is to reduce taxation. The Government to-day is making a great experiment by reducing Income Tax and the Tea Duty. All classes ought to be a little better off by reason of that reduction of taxation. If pensions be increased it will mean that you make one section of the poor a little better off and all other sections of the poor a little worse off. This question has been spoken of somewhat lightly by the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, but it is the biggest question 481 of our time and it ought to dominate our decisions of every public issue.
It is not merely a question of what a family has to pay, either in direct or indirect taxation, on its tea, or amusements, or beer, or tobacco. On this question of economy depends the whole chance of trade revival in this country. At present you cannot go through any of the great towns in the industrial North without being staggered by the amount of unemployment and distress. In my own district there is street after street where people are living in poverty, miserably housed and out of work, or at the best under-employed, and their only chance of economic revival depends upon a revival of our export trade. We know very well that the only way in which that trade can be revived is by diminishing the cost of production, and that the only way in which we can help to lessen the cost of production is by reducing taxation. We, therefore, ought to be adamant, however hard and unpopular that course may be, towards every proposal which, though it may involve popularity in a certain quarter, yet has the far greater disadvantage at the same time of increasing taxation and thereby making trade revival more difficult. Revision of this class of pension is, of course, most desirable, as is revision of all classes of pensions. Every man must feel how very hard is the lot of these old men, and how desirable it is, if possible, to better the conditions of life for them. But we have to realise that we cannot do this at present without at the same time inflicting hardship on the rest of the community. We have to take a long view; we have to realise that A is no good talking about economy and then boggling at economies. We cannot get the economy we write about and talk about on the platform unless we are prepared to stand by economies in practice, however unpopular it may be to grasp the nettle when questions come to a division. In moving this Amendment I realise that I am doing, and that I am asking the House to do, what must be unpopular but, taking the long view, it is the right thing to do, and we ought to follow the right course, however difficult it may be to pursue it to its logical end.
§ Dr. WORSFOLD
I beg to second the Amendment. This is certainly a very difficult Amendment to move, because I 482 know at the outset that it is opposed to emotion, which very often overmasters calm, considered judgment. Let me say how deeply I deprecate the appeal, for these men as myrmidons of millionaires which seemed to be the chief basis for his exhortations, of the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Banton). That is a point with which I am profoundly at issue. Wherever the flag has flown over the Empire, upheld by our soldiers and sailors, it has stood in the breeze for justice to all. I want the House earnestly to clear its mind of excessive sentiment, and to consider briefly the circumstances which led to these pensions at the outset. In the first place these men, worthy and good veterans of the Empire, joined the Army with their eyes open. They took up the business as a profession. They did not go, as in the last War, to the detriment of their business or the ruin of their households. They went with their eyes open, and they went gladly. Therefore, we cannot put them in the same category as those who claimed our attention in the late War. I ask the House to remember that at present we are paying something like £90,000,000 a year in pensions to those who fought and suffered and very often lost their all in the great call of the nation in 1914. It is important that the point should be differentiated, and very sharply too, for we should remember what we are doing for those who had wrested from them everything that made life worth living in civilian existence.
Let us come to what took place in 1920 when the Pensions (Increase) Act passed. That was only passed after careful consideration of the ways and means by which the position should be met. The period that has elapsed since is not a very long one, and we should see how that Measure will act before we rush in with the principle of raising these pensions because others have had their pensions raised. I want the House also to bear this in mind, and I say it, not without due deliberation and speaking from personal knowledge, that in very many instances—I make so bold as to say in the majority of instances—old soldiers are not in the parlous state that those who support the Motion would have us believe. They came out of the Army, all to their credit, hall-marked as steady, honest, straightforward and reliable men, and in many cases the old soldier has had a good berth given him because of his services in the 483 past, and is retained in that berth. I can mention one man who is 72 years of age, and who holds a position of trust. He is only one of very many. I am not going to say that all are in that state of happiness and contentment. No class in this world ever was, but it must be borne in mind that when these men came out of the Army, after long service, they got a preference. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Those with whom I am acquainted got a preference. Take, for example, the commissionaires. They are recognised as good, straightforward' men, who can be relied upon and trusted with untold gold. We must remember that those who volunteered came out after their service with, as I say, the hall-mark of trustworthiness and honesty, which was a considerable asset to them, in civilian life.
There is one other point, a point of finance, on which I will merely touch. Let us remember that if there is this increase it is bound almost inevitably to come out of the pockets of those who have fixed incomes, and if those who have fixed incomes are further taxed, their activities on behalf of many charitable institutions will, in turn, become absolutely limited and crippled. In fact, it is a vicious circle in sociology. It sounds very splendid that the old soldiers should be remembered in the sunset of life. I think in most cases this is so for they are honoured and respected, and wherever there is an opportunity they are made much of, as is their due. I ask the House, much as hon. Members may be swept by an emotion, for which I confess I have a great feeling of receptivity, to let us be just before we are generous.
§ Mr. G. BARNES
The only argument I see against this Motion is that it will cost money. It will cost, I am told, about half a million, or perhaps a little more, in the first year, and it will run out in ten years. Therefore, it will cost £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 altogether. That, as I say, seems the only argument against the Motion and, up to last night, I should have regarded that argument as a strong one. It may be said, as was said by the Mover of the Amendment and by the hon. Member who has just sat down, that we ought to have in our minds the serious state of national finance and the heavy burden on the taxpayer. I agree with that. Speaking generally, this is not a 484 time for expansion, but rather a time for retrenchment, in public expenditure. There is no doubt high taxes are, at this moment, an almost crushing burden upon industry and contribute to some extent to the number of unemployed. When the Geddes proposals first came into this House, I said that if the Government took their courage in both hands and proposed the adoption of those recommendations, holus bolus, I should have been inclined to vote with them, so impressed have I been with the serious state of public expenditure and its effect upon industry. I say that, notwithstanding the fact that there are one or two things in the recommendations, such as the abolition of the Afforestation Department and certain of the education proposals, with which I do not agree. So impressed was I, however, with the need for lessening taxation that I would have voted for the whole lot. Those considerations were swept away last night. What happened last night? What did the hon. Member who has just sat down vote for last night? His name appears in the Division List in favour of giving a body of men this year—not in ten years—a sum of £2,300,000.
§ Dr. WORSFOLD
—or has imputed to me the doing of something which I have not done, I think I am in order in pointing out that what I voted for last night was the appointment of a Committee of inquiry.
§ Mr. BARNES
The net result conveyed to the mind of the average man inside and outside the House is that we had two Division Lobbies last night, one of which voted with the Government and the other of which voted for giving a body of men, this year, £2,300,000.
§ Mr. BARNES
Leaving aside technicalities, that is what the hon. Member voted for, and he voted that money to a body of public servants who are relatively, to put it very mildly, very well off as compared with the men we are considering to-night. Last night we had under consideration a proposition to give 485 this sum of money to a body of public servants who during the whole of their lives are assured of wages, and at the end of their working lives are assured of pensions at the public expense. This is a body of men and women who are not only assured of wages but are now, at all events, whatever their position before the War, assured of good wages. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has said, in effect, by his vote, that he is not only in favour of giving them three times as much wages as before the War, but a handsome pension at the end of their working lives. I do not care what his reasons are; I simply state the bare facts. On the other hand, what have we now in the way of men to plead for in this Motion? The hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Amendment told us, supposing we passed this Motion, that there might be demands from other people by and by. I never saw or heard of him voting for any generous proposal for anybody in this House. If my memory serves me right, when we were pleading for the aged veterans of industry a few months ago, he moved a Motion against that, or, if he did not move a Motion, he voted against the proposal. In fact, he is always to be found there or thereabouts. He said we should have demands made by other people, and he instanced the men in the workshops who had been getting wages which seemed to him to be so high—£2 per week. These men for whom we are now pleading went into the Army in the formative period of their lives, very often not because they deliberately chose that profession, as the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has said, but because they were out of work and poor. We have taken advantage of the poverty of these men, we. have built up our Army and Navy from the ranks of the unemployed and the poor. It is a mean thing, and I say it deliberately, for an hon. and gallant Gentleman who has served with these men to come here and cut them out of the advantages they would get from this Motion.
What is their pension? I am almost ashamed of it. These men have served in all sorts of climates and have suffered in health as a consequence. They have built up this Empire for us. I am proud of the Empire and of what they have done for us, and I rather dissociate myself from the Mover of the Motion in this respect. It is more and more im- 486 portant for us that we should develop our territory which has been won for us by these men. That is cur only chance of getting employment for the great mass of our working people, many of whom are now walking about the streets. These are the men who have built up this territory for us and have given us the opportunity of obtaining employment therefrom for the working people of this country, which is ever getting more important owing to the fact that those countries for whom we used to produce are now producing for themselves and are not obtaining their goods from us.
§ Mr. BANTON
I do not remember decrying the Empire nor speaking against it I only appealed to those who firmly believe in it.
§ Mr. BARNES
I am sure the hon. Member will believe me when I say that I have no desire to misrepresent him. If I have imputed to him anything contarary to what he said, I apologise. These men were entiled to our special consideration because they are drawn from a class of the community that is comparatively helpless. Because of that they were miserably paid in their service and then cast out on the market at a time when they ought to have had some special training for industry. They had not got that training, and therefore were at a disadvantage compared with others. The Government are pretty much in the same position in regard to these men as they are in regard to the school teachers. It was pleaded last night that the teachers had a moral claim through a bargain made some years ago. I do not know whether that is so or not, and I am expressing no opinion upon it. The Government, however, are under a moral obligation to pay these men better than they are doing now because of their bargain. What is that bargain? Some years ago these men, as a result of long service, were getting about 1s. a day; in fact, very often I do not think they got 1s. a day, unless they had served for a very long period and if they had wounds. I know, because I had occasion to inquire into these cases when I went to the Ministry of Pensions, that if a man, even with wounds, had 1s. a day it was thought that he was being very well dealt with. When these pensions were fixed by the Government many years ago 1s. a day was sufficient to buy cer- 487 tain services and commodities. It was worth so much, expressed in commodities. Do not we all know that 1s. then might be expressed in about 2s. or half-a-crown now? Therefore, if the Government are to keep faith with these men in terms of the commodities which their meagre pensions might then have acquired for them, their pensions now ought to be double what they were at that time.
In addition to the other reasons I have given, and on merits, these men have a claim to have their pensions assessed in terms of money now, so that they can get as many commodities as they would have had for 1s. long years ago. We have a special obligation towards them. They served us faithfully and well in years gone by. Their cases have been considered by special committees that have been set up, but the committees' recommendations have not been carried out. Speaking generally, I suppose the men now get pensions only about 40 per cent, or 50 per cent. higher than when they were fixed many years ago, and we all know that the cost of living has increased very much more than that. Only this very night, as I was coming to the House, I saw an old man standing outside the kerb in the Strand selling newspapers. He wore a couple of medals. I bought a newspaper, and put to him a few questions about his service. He had the medal granted for service on the march to Kandahar. He told me he had taken part in another war about that time, and that he was also in the Boer Rebellion of 1881, 41 years ago. That old man, this very night, is standing in the Strand selling newspapers. I say, with deliberation, that whatever the financial condition of the country may be, these men are entitled to a better recognition of the services they have rendered. They are entitled to end a life of honourable service to the nation with a well won pension, and if the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Banton) goes into the Lobby I shall certainly go with him.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Hilton Young)
We can none of us be deaf to an appeal such as that contained in the last words of the right hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. G. Barnes), but in regard to some of the other arguments he has addressed to the House I am really in doubt whether for once he has not been speaking in an 488 ironic vein. It must really not be put against the policy which it is my duty to advocate that there is any unfulfilment of a bargain. Surely it stands obvious to common sense that what the State is doing at present is fulfilling a bargain made with these pensioners. The case put against that to-night, with much eloquence, is that that bargain ought to be revised. I cannot but suppose that there was something of a note of irony in the right hon. Member's argument, and I suspect an even stronger note of irony in his argument based on the proceedings of last night. His arguments weread hominem, and I, at any rate, am not subject to special reply. Is it seriously put to the House that, because a certain thing was done last night which every Member will realise, whatever its merits, must have the most grave consequences to the finances of the year, the House is therefore to consider itself, as it were, turned loose to continue those actions time after time, with ever increasing gravity to the finances of the year? Surely this argument also must be ironical.
§ Mr. G. BARNES
All I meant to convey was that if the House thought fit to give money to comparatively well-to-do people, if they had no more regard than that for the finances of the country at the present moment, for my part I am going to see, so far as my vote and influence go, that the poor are going to have a share as well.
§ Mr. YOUNG
The moral I should like to derive from the circumstances to which the right hon. Gentleman refers is that the. House should have, indeed, a great deal more regard than that to the financial circumstances of the country and that, if any use is to be made of the event of last night, it is to be used as a foundation for an appeal that the House will, indeed, bring itself to a sense of the extreme gravity of the responsibility which rests upon it, in such circumstances as those in which we are, in dealing with any question of additional expenditure. There was something, which one could not but welcome, in the observations of the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Banton). I am sure we all specially welcomed his eloquent tribute, coming from those benches, to the magnificences of the British Empire and the services of those soldiers and sailors which have done so much to obtain that expansion 489 and to enlarge those glories. We all registered, I am sure, a firm resolution to remember his eloquence on future occasions when other issues turn up for debate in this House. There was something which I found a little to regret in his observations. I thought it was regrettable that there should be any tendency at all, in a Debate in this House, to make any sort of party question of the `deep, the overwhelming debt which every Mem of this House feels he owes to these old and faithful servants, who have served it, not in the ways of peace, but in the forefront of the battle. It is, of course, an appeal to which no heart can fail to respond, and, knowing how strong that appeal can be, knowing how much we must all feel it in our hearts, I think we ought to be a little particularly on our guard, on such occasions as this, not to be carried away by the warmth of emotion to do what we should like to do for the benefit of one class at the expense of justice to the community as a whole.
A little element, perhaps, of prejudicial sympathy has been, I cannot 'but think, introduced into the discussion by enlarging it to too wide an extent. These matters about the pay of the Army and Navy, be their merits what they may, are not truly under discussion on the present occasion. There lies before us a very much smaller issue. Certain pensions were earned by the old soldiers and sailors. They retired on those pensions. Thereafter the country went through the great agony of the War, and the great hardships inflicted by a great rise in prices. The State took a certain measure in the year 1920 to remedy the worst of those hardships by the Pensions (Increase) Act. The single issue, I venture to suggest, before the House to-night, is that much narrower one. Was that special measure taken to relieve those old pensioners in 1920 as much as we ought to do, or was it not? All these other and wider issues, these matters of prejudice about a man getting so little pay in comparison with somebody else, are not in issue. The issue is simply this question of whether we ought to reopen the pensions' settlement of 1920 in favour of these pensioners. I would ask the House to follow me into one or two details of finance. I want to put before it facts, which I cannot but think the House will consider to 'be very relevant indeed, for in the formation of a true opinion as to 490 what ought to be done, we must see exactly how wide the problem is, how great the hardships are, what people are affected, and so on. Let me consider rather in detail the Service to Which I naturally turn, and with which I have the better acquaintance, the Service of the Navy.
The majority of the old pensioners of the Navy have actually clone some term of service during the War, in respect of which their pensions have been reassessed upon a higher scale, so that they do not come under our discussion to-day at all. That affects the majority of all the old pre-War pensioners of the Navy, they have got a re-assessment on the higher scale, and the House will see how very much that limits the area of this discussion. Of the remainder—I am talking of the Navy—no fewer than 9,250 have profited by the Pensions (Increase) Act of 1920 and have got their increases under that Act, and so they are not on the pre-War basis any longer. The House will like to know how much that costs. Those increases under the Pensions (Increase) Act for the pre-War pensioners are costing us £170,000 a year, and the average increase which the pre-War pensioners are enjoying under that Act is £18 7s. 6d. That limits the number of pre-War pensioners of the Navy who are on their pre-War pensions unincreascd—those to whom the Mover and Seconder of this Motion have addressed themselves in particular—to something more than 3,000 only of the total number of Naval pensioners, and that is something round about, but not more than, a quarter of the total, so that the numbers are comparatively few. As to those, one reason why that quarter are not getting the benefits of the increase under the Pensions (Increase) Act is because their incomes are in excess of the limits prescribed by that, Act; they did not get an increase if a married man had an income of more than £200 a year, and if a single man had an income of more than £150 a year, so that many, no doubt, or some of those 3,000 are not getting their increase because they have private means, and so on, and are getting more than that income. The remainder will not be able to get the increase under that Act for what reason? Because they are not yet 60 years of age, and as to those it is a. probability that when they are 60 years of age they will 491 get their increases under the Act, and enjoy the benefits which the House has already prescribed as an addition to pre-War pensioners. Therefore, I think the House will agree, that if you take all these circumstances into consideration, the hardships are really very much less than have been described, and the number of persons affected is very small in eons parison with the number suggested, and is diminishing.
Is it not a fact that since the Pensions (Increase) Act has been in operation there have been a number of pensioners getting between 10s. and 11s. a week? That is our point. That is not at all the point dealt with by the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. YOUNG
The hon. and gallant Member is addressing himself to the amount of increase provided by the Pensions (Increase) Act.
§ Mr. YOUNG
Yes; if the hon. and gallant Member will permit me to develop my argument upon the lines I intended, he will find that I shall proceed to these matters, which give him so much interest, at a later stage. Dealing with the Army, as I say, in less detail than the Navy, two facts of most interest, I think, to the House will be these—that the total cost, of the increases under the Pensions (Increase) Act to Army pensioners is £160,000 a year, and that the average increase of the pensions affected by that Act is 45 per cent., which, of course, is a very substantial increase in comparison with the original pension. Figures have been quoted by hon. Members as to the total cost which would result to the State by this Motion. I regret to say that the figures which have been quoted in the course of the discussion are not accurate. 492 The cost would be very substantially more than those figures which have been suggested to the House. It was suggested that the total cost of the Motion in the form in which it is moved would be only £500,000 a year for the whole service involved. The actual cost, so far as it is possible to estimate—and these matters have been estimated with some accuracy—would be £610,000 a year for the Army, and at least £100,000 for the Navy, making a cost of between £700,000 and £750,000 a year.
§ Mr. YOUNG
For the first year. The House will see at once that it is no negligible or insignificant addition to the expenditure of the year. The point of view I have to suggest—and this is an argument which I should like to present to the House with a great deal of force—is that if there be any justification for this increase to one class of pensioner, there can be no justification for refusing to extend it to all classes of the nation's pensioners—no justification whatever. The broad outline of the position is exactly the same for all. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I will not throw down that proposition before the House without venturing to support it with arguments. If you are to re-open your pension settlement with the old soldiers and old sailors, there are other classes you must consider, as I suggest, as coming under the same head. This Motion only deals with the men of the Army and Navy. What difference can there be, on the wide principle, if the cost of living has gone up, and pensions are to be re-opened, between men and officers? I know of none. What difference can there be between the military pensioners of the State and the civil pensioners?
Mr. ALFRED DAVIES (Clitheroe)
Would not that argument apply when the. Pensions (Increase) Act was passed in 1920?
§ Mr. YOUNG
Yes, that applies to all pensioners. The hon. Member is under a misapprehension in this respect. No difference was made then, and I am venturing to argue that no difference should be made now. On the broad principle that the pension should be revised, in view of the cost of living, civil servants, teachers and police—all those classes— 493 are entitled to the same consideration. If one class be entitled to consideration, on the broad principle other classes are entitled to consideration, and the only difference—and I admit the difference—is the difference in the extent of the sympathy you feel, and your impression of the services rendered; but with regard to the situation in respect of the household budget, there is no difference at all. At any rate, I think the House will agree with me, although some may differ on the point of theory, that practically it would be very difficult to refuse the extension, and we know the pressure that would be brought to bear. We have had recent examples of the force with which pressure can be exercised. If this principle were to be applied at all, the only fair method would be to apply it broadcast, which would cost the nation £5,000,000 a year. I do present that difficulty to the serious consideration of the House in the state of our national finances.
In the one or two words I have to say on the next heading, I do desire to avoid misconstruction. I am not going to say these two or three words in any sense as depreciating the services of the soldier and sailor. I trust I may be relieved in advance of the least likelihood that I would do that. Let me take my courage in my hand, and say the words I have to say. I am saying them for our own consolation when we talk of the enormous debt we owe these men. The matter to which I want to call attention is the advantage which the old soldiers and old sailors enjoy. I think the House will like to think of the enormous efforts that are made by voluntary organisations for finding employment for old soldiers and old sailors, and the advantages which they enjoy in that respect. I think the House, as the master of the Services of the State, will like to think of the great efforts that are made for the employment of old soldiers and old sailors in the service of the State. I do not know whether the House is fully aware of what has been done in this respect. Every possible job is kept for the ex-soldier and the ex-sailor, and quite rightly so. The Post Office, of course, offers a wider field—
§ Mr. YOUNG
No. There is a difference between the soldiers, the sailors, and the civil servants; but what I say is that the principles of applying possible employment for soldiers and sailors are what I have stated, and I am sure the House will agree that they are right. Preference is, of course, given to the ex-service man as against the civilian. That is a principle which we all greatly desire to see increased in every possible way. Further, the next and most obvious rule of preference is always to give the disabled man occupation in which he can be employed as against the sound man—another thing for which I do not know that I need apologise. Lastly—and particular instances have been presented in our discussion to-night—an effort is always made, as between the long-service man and the short-service man, to find a permanent job for the long-service man; that., again, I feel sure the House will agree is right. For all the reasons—which have been so frequently used in debate to-night—the long-service man comes from his long service less qualified than the short-service man to find employment elsewhere. Therefore he has more than a right that he should be given preference in finding work under the State which he has served so well.
Finally, let me say that it perhaps is not so widely recognised as it should be that the disability pensions granted in respect to disabilities caused in former wars have been raised to the rates of the disability pensions of the Great War. Considerable misapprehension apparently exists, especially in regard to particular cases, and it has been supposed that a man suffering from disabilities and wounds in previous wars is less well off in respect of his disability pension than the wound pensioners of the Great War. That is not so. All these pensions in respect of disability caused in previous wars have been brought up to the Great War rate. I have dwelt on these matters with a view of covering the subject as to what men and how many men are affected. Finally, what is the brighter side of the picture to set against the disadvantages. Let me address myself to this aspect in what may be the logical course following the questions or the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson) who, I think, has now left the House. When the Pensions (Increases) Act was passed, there was a certain 495 amount of discussion as to its rates and amounts. Nobody for a moment professes that the amounts provided under the Act were all that we should like to give to a deserving class of old servants, but it was thought quite impossible at that time, 1920, to give more in view of our financial circumstances. The further burden put upon the State was £1,000,000 a year, which that Act is now costing the taxpayers in increased pensions charges. At that time our finances were in a state of comparative health to what they are now. Again, the cost of living was still rising. Since then and now we have had to have regard to our financial troubles, but more important still since 1920 the cost of living has fallen from 155 to 86 per cent. above the pre-War level.
The case I have to present is this: that we should look upon this as a particular case, in the general principle, that a pensions bargain once made should be kept. No one would argue that a pension should be decreased with the falling cost of living, once it is given. The House will remember that recently I had to stand here and defend this principle in the case of the civil servants' pensions. I think the House then agreed with my view, that, as a general principle, pensions once given by way of bargain should stand. By the Act of 1920 the House definitely came to the conclusion to extend relief for the worst hardships of this particular class of pensioners. The case I have to present is, that we ought not now to depart from that bargain, in view of the altered circumstances of the times. We must hold the balance between the various classes in the country. These pensioners of the Army and Navy, near as they lie to our hearts, are only a single class who feel the hardships inflicted upon whole classes of people living upon small fixed incomes during the War and since. They are all suffering alike from these great hardships. Such cases as those presented ^-o us with so much eloquence to-night on behalf of the soldiers and sailors might be duplicated from any class of persons living on small fixed incomes. I ask the House, therefore, to agree that we must fix the measure and extent to which the State can give relief to one section of this great class at the expense of the others. I do not believe that there is anything which has occurred since the Act 496 of 1920 that could cause us to revise our decision at the present time. Believe me, the true way to benefit those old folk, and those other people with whom we are brought in contact, in common with every man and woman in the country, with respect to their incomes is this: To limit our budgets, to keep down expenditure, to reduce and not increase taxation and expenditure—even for the most worthy objects—then in the general prosperity which we shall restore to the country they will benefit equally with the rest of us.
§ Rear-Admiral ADAIR
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken, I am sure, has had a most unpleasant task, and I sympathise with him in having had to do it. I wish to say, however, that in my opinion the major part of his speech has been altogether beside the point, because what we are dealing with now is a certain small class of men, not one of whom is less than 63 years of age, old pensioners who ought to have received the same increase in pension in January, 1919, as the men did who are now 62. Why the difference should have been made then between a man who is now 63 and one who is now 62 I cannot understand. It was given to the man who is now 62, and not to the man who is now 63, because the man of 62 happened then to be liable to be called for active service. I am not belittling their service, but probably many of those men have not seen as much service in earlier campaigns as the men who are now 63.
The men who are now at the most 62 are getting a basic rate of three halfpence per day per year of service, while the men who are 63, and who may have seen much more active service, are getting a basic rate of one halfpenny per day per year of service. That is one-third of the amount given to a man with only one year's difference in service. That is our point, and none of the other stuff that the Financial Secretary talked about has anything to do with the point, and a great deal of it has been absolutely irrelevant matter. I would venture to say that two-thirds of it was irrelevant to the point about which we are speaking. We are speaking of the men who were not called up, although many volunteered, but they were refused on account of age, and they are now getting one-third of the pension which the men who are one year younger are now getting.
497 As to the revision of the bargain, what was the bargain made with the men who were 54 in 1914? It was exactly the same bargain as was made with the men who were 55. Why revise the bargain in the one ease and not in the other? There is no rhyme or reason for it. The men who did not get this rise of three-halfpence in 1919 have been dealt with in a mean and unjust manner, it is a most gross piece of injustice. There was such a terrible lot of irrelevant matter brought in by the Financial Secretary that he seems to have befogged the thing altogether, but I hope that I have put it straight. We are dealing now with the men who may have saved India for us in the Indian Mutiny, who are from 77 to 80 years of age to-day, and therefore cannot do manual work of any sort; the men who marched with Roberts to Kandahar, must he 68 to-day what of the men who saved the Zululand at Rorke's Drift —where are the Welsh Members? Where is the Prime Minister? Because it was the famous 24th Regiment that saved Zululand. These are the men we want this three-halfpence per day per year for. What of the men who marched with Herbert Stewart's desert column to save Gordon at Khartoum? They too must be 63 by this time.
I have become so angry listening to what has been argued by the Financial Secretary against this proposal that I am afraid I have rather lost my head, but I hope I have shown clearly what we are driving at. I am going back to the bargain which was broken in 1919 to the men who were 63, but was not broken to the men who were 62. There is no reason for having done so. The Financial Secretary has argued that if we revise these pensions, it will also be necessary to revise Civil Service and other pensions. I would like to point out that the pre-War pension of a postman or a policeman was three times as great as that of a seaman, of a soldier or sailor. The postman could serve up to 60 on full pay and had the advantage of bringing up his family whilst on full pay, but the sailor and the soldier serving in India received meagre pay; he could not marry until late in life, and with his pension of 8s. 2d. per week he would probably be bringing up a small family whilst the postman had been able to rear his family on full pay; the 498 pensioned postman is three times as well off as the sailor.
Then you have also to consider the advantages offered in the two services. When the soldier receives his pension generally he knows nothing about labour, and he is compulsorily thrown into the labour market at 42 knowing nothing about it. Consider the environment of the soldier serving in India or the seaman on the east coast of Africa on the other hand, the postman is probably marking down a little shop which he is going to acquire, and probably the policeman marries the cook down the area. The pre-War pension of 8s. 2d. given to the able seaman is increased under the Pensions Increase Act by 50 per cent. making it 12s. 3d., while the postman gets 23s. 6d., plus 50 per cent., making, say, 35s. per week. In one case the man has a starvation wage, and in the other he gets quite enough to live on and moreover has a family to help him when he receives his pension. That is the distinction between the soldier and the sailor and all other classes of pensioner. The Financial Secretary has referred to the sum which this proposal is going to cost, and I think he said it would be £700,000 all told. The rigid economist will say, "I will not vote for this unless you can show how you can save that amount somewhere else."
It is the duty of the Government to find that saving. If they do not know where to find it, I will tell them. The Financial Secretary told us to-day that in this year's Estimates £352,000 is appropriated to Pembroke Dockyard. That yard is not wanted by the Navy; it is absolutely superfluous. The Navy Estimates are not framed on philanthropic principles in order to find maintenance for those out of employment. They are framed for the Navy, and there is no just reason for that £352,000 being spent on Pembroke this year. That sum would provide 32 times what we are asking for naval men. We were told yesterday that we are spending £200,000 a month on our Army in Constantinople. What are they doing? There are, I believe, 127 staff officers—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
This is all very wide of the Motion. It is not right to introduce questions of which notice is not given in the original Motion.
§ Rear-Admiral ADAIR
I am very sorry. I was only trying to help the Govern- 499 ment. I think I have shown that where the saving can be made; it is their duty to find this money; the present state of affairs is a disgrace to the nation.
Mr. S. ROBERTS
I do not think the right hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. G. Barnes) in his speech showed quite his usual generosity in dealing with the hon. Member who put down this Amendment. He seemed to charge him with, on every occasion, not. showing a sympathetic attitude when a Motion of a sentimental character is put down. I rather think he was really praising him for his consistency. Consistency nowadays is so rare, and particularly consistency in the interests of economy. It ought, therefore, when found, to be praised and not the reverse. The right hon. Gentleman used a phrase which I do not think was altogether justified. He spoke of the Amendment as being mean. It is very easy to be generous with the public money and to make accusations of meanness against those who are endeavouring to tread the path of economy. I hope, whatever the House may think of the arguments we may raise for this Amendment, that it will, at any rate, give us credit, not for hardness of heart, or meanness of spirit, or lack of appreciation of the services of these men, or lack of appreciation of the difficulties with which they are faced, I hope they will give us credit in voting for this Amendment for looking at overriding principles which we think are due to the condition of the country's finances.
I admit that the Division of yesterday has put us in a position of some considerable difficulty. I must say, although I do not like bringing in a personal matter, that it was only either some defect in my eyesight or the defect of a typewriter which twisted a "6" into a "9," that prevented me from being present to support the Government last night. It has put us in a difficulty, and has made one feel inclined, although one had intended to support this Amendment to-night, to have nothing further to do with endeavouring to support economy. Yet at the same time, if that feeling were carried into effect to any large extent, it would lead to such a not of expenditure that, as sensible men, we must try to put down that rather natural feeling of resentment, and stick to the path of economy as far as we can. It is not an easy path. It is a 500 lonely path. You do not get any friends or any votes by going that way, and you leave behind a trail of opponents perhaps a little more embittered, and, what is perhaps harder, a trail of friends' disappointment.
I do not want to go into the merits of the case to-night, but I want to deal with the question in the light of the over-riding considerations. I admit everything that has been said with regard to the deserving character of these men, but I put to myself, and I think every Member of the House should put to himself, this question: If we admit that this is a deserving case, if this is an expenditure that we should like to see incurred, is it not all the more our duty to resist the temptation of voting for it? It is such an easy thing to vote against expenditure of which we disapprove. The idea that economies should come first usually comes from those people who desire economies upon those things that they do not like. There are things upon which I should desire to economise. I am one of those who dislike the large expenditure which is still going on in the Middle East. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Shettleston (Rear-Admiral Adair) about the money which is being spent and which I cannot help thinking is not serving any national purpose in Constantinople, Palestine, and Iraq. Personally I should like to vote against the Supplementary Estimate that was foreshadowed this afternoon. But how can I criticise the Government. on items of expenditure if at the same time I thrust in upon them when they are endeavouring to resist?
That seems to me to be the over-riding consideration. It is necessary, in the interests of carrying on the services of the country, at times to vote in favour of expenditure, or of keeping up expenditure which is at present upon the Estimates. But the distinction comes in with the question of new expenditure which has been thrust upon us, and I think that at the present time national considerations, considerations of the revival of trade, of getting rid of unemployment, are so great, that it is a duty to resist all national expenditure as it may arise. There are some Members of this House, and some of our administrators and governors, who are, no doubt, born spenders. There are others who achieve the spending capacity by communication with the former but there are some who have spending thrust 501 upon them. Let us sympathise with them, and, if we believe in economy, if we have any faith in what we preach, do not let us be among the thrusters.
§ Mr. TILLETT
I am very anxious that we shall realise that a great deal of hypocrisy and cant has been spoken to-night about economy. I am not going to throw any stones at all. I am one of those Members who believe that the Treasury is very anxious for economy. They have been very anxious all the time to economise, but they have not been able to economise. Circumstances over which they have had no control have forced them to be generous against their will and against their own reason and intelligence. There was a time when £1,000,000,000 was spoken of in the lightest vein possible. Then we got down to a more sober vein, but we were still prodigal of a mere £100,000,000. Then we got still more cautious and came down to, say, £50,000,000 and, then it was £10,000,00, and now it is £2,500,000 for 10 years that we are so anxious about. If we had not been prodigal, if we had not done the things we ought to have done and so on, I should say we were in a very good position. I have sympathy with the Chancellor. If I were the Chancellor I do not think the country would be as safe as it is at present. There would be no Debate to-night upon this matter at any rate. But when one hears these profound arguments uttered with the best Front. Bench mannerisms and benedictions expressed on economy, and one listens to economy in this House, which has just passed through a great War—and we blundered. The Government has blundered. The Cabinet has blundered. I do not believe we could have made any more mistakes than we have made. We have been so prodigal in our mistakes. But I do not know that any other party would have done very much better. At least they would have been open to many great problems and difficulties. I would not give you away. I would not sell you. Here we are making statements with mathematical accuracy, and one Gentleman over there said he knew a commissionaire, a gentleman who runs for a shilling and that sort of thing, who was well off—one swallow for a whole summer—and that was his arguments after his riotous prodigality last night for the other folks.
502 Economy must come on the old man, on the least protected, on those at least who have rendered service to their country. There is talk of patriotism and shedding your blood for your country, and then comes along a very profound, statesmanlike person who says this is a time when we must economise—this paltry, mean economy and political parsimony that is a discredit to the House. I do not want to blame the Treasury because I believe they really want us to overwhelm them. All they want is the kick, and I hope the House will give them the kick. I hope the House will stand up for the men who rendered service to the country—10 years in ever-diminishing quantity, for ever dwindling and dwindling into nothingness, and when one realises all these things, after the wanton welter and waste of wealth in too many cases, why should we in a moment of riotous parsimony and unctuous hypocrisy come to our bearings? The Chancellor is a very responsible person. I would rather have my job than his at the moment. I do not want this House to let. the country know that after many years of misdirection and difficulty, at this last moment, in a gospel of perfection, we are trying to undo the work of yesterday, and are going to be economical. I do not care whether it is the Geddes axe, or the "Daily Mail" axe, or the "Times" axe, or any other axe but I do protest against debating this matter seriously, when such a paltry sum is involved, and when the issues are blended into all the golden traditions of our courage, of our race, and of our Empire, in regard to the men who have served us. I do protest against our turning to them at this period of our economy, and saying: "Your time is past. You have to suffer." I appeal to the gallantry of this House. I am putting my side of the case against the cold, mathematical, statistical, sardonic attitude that some people have taken up and I appeal on the ground of common sense, and on the ground of our common humanity. If we love our country we can only love our country by honouring those who have given the best of their lives to make it what it is.
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY
I want to say one word from the point of view of what the hon. Member for North Salford (Mr. Tillett) called the cold, statistical, sardonic and villainous point of view. I shall support him in the case that he 503 raises, and I shall support him from that point of view. The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. S. Roberts) asked how could we believe that the Government were extravagant in certain things urge economy in those things, if we urge the Government to spend money in other things. That seems to me to be a point of view which I cannot understand. If I had taken that point of view a little more than a year ago, when I had the honour of first entering this House, I should have entered it as an anti-waste candidate, and not as a Coalition Unionist. I entered it as a Coalition Unionist, because I propose to exercise my judgment as to the direction in which economy should be exercised.
I have very great sympathy with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in the case which he has put forward, but I think he will agree with me that it would be to mislead the House if he gave the House to understand that our pension laws for civil servants, for soldiers and for sailors were in all respects logical at the present time. They are not. We all know, certainly those who have had inside experience of the Civil Service, that there are cases of hardship in the Civil Service, and have been for years, possibly equal—I have known one or two cases—in hardship to any which were urged to-night in the case of the soldier and the sailor. Our pension laws are not logical. They are not logical between class and class of Government employés, they are not logical even among classes, and they create infinite hardship within each class. The Financial Secretary, who has the right to address this House from a point of view which should make it impossible for any hon. Gentleman to accuse him of coldness in this matter, will admit that there is no part of our legislation which so urgently needs comprehensive and careful revision as the whole system of our pension laws, and I think that the House will feel after listening to his extremely able speech tonight that he has been unable with the best will in the world to convince the House that the present legislation as regards pensions is logical as between class and class or as between age and age. Personally I should be the last to wish to press the Government to take a decision to-night which might lead them further than they or perhaps any hon. 504 Member would desire to go, but I do say that the time has now come when a competent authoritative body should be set up to survey the whole field of our pension laws, and if I could receive from the Government a promise that they would set up such a body with instructions to issue an early interim Report on such hard cases as these that have been put before the House to-night then I would not dream, so far as I could control the matter, of pressing this Motion to a Division. I think it possible that the right way to deal with these cases is largely to increase the provision which has for many years, almost immemorial, been made for hard cases in the Civil Service and for other Government employés by way of Civil List pensions. I think that possiblyex gratia pensions of that kind in hard cases would be the best way to deal with these and other similar cases. I do not know. I do know this. We have before us to-night a class of cases which in the aggregate represent such hardship that unless I can receive—I think that I speak for some other hon. Members, although I have no authority—unless we can receive some promise from the Government to set up an inquiry such as I have indicated, we shall be obliged to support this Motion in the Division Lobby.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Sir Robert Horne)
I confess that, personally, I am at this moment suffering from a considerable disillusion. I am an economist by race, by nature, and by instinct, and I saw in front of me a vista which is seldom presented to a public man, that of indulging one's prejudices and at the same time being infinitely popular. I heard so much said in favour of economy that I thought that I should be the most popular man in this country at the same time that I was pursuing the path which my reason and my prejudice indicated. But I have lived long enough now to know that that was a complete delusion on my part. The economist who endeavours to practise economy in this country has no friends whatever. We have had in the case of the last few weeks three notable examples of what I am referring to. All the matters raised were important and commended themselves to the sympathy of various bodies of Members. There was the question of old age pensions, which excited everybody's sympathy. 505 We had yesterday the case of the teacher, and we know the extent to which he excited the sympathy of the House. To-clay we have the case of the pre-War pensioner. I say at once that, if one were in a position to do so, there is no object for which one would so readily find the money as for that presented to-night. I sympathise entirely with the speeches that have been made. I do not think that any of them has laid too great an emphasis on the services which these men have rendered to the country. I listened to a most eloquent speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. G. Barnes); but the speech he made with regard to the pre-War pensioner could have been made with regard to millions of other people in this country. His speech was founded entirely upon distress.
What about the 2,000,000 unemployed? Are they not suffering distress? What about the middle classes of this country, who have endured privations such as they have never hitherto been asked to bear? What about the clerks? What about some of the professional classes? Distress is rampant throughout the realm now. If you set out to relieve all cases of hardship, the revenues of the country would require to be enormously increased before you would be able to deal with one-tenth of them. I do not wish to put forward this argument as an argument which should create final judgment, but it ought to have some bearing on the situation. In 1920 the case of the pre-War pensioner was considered deliberately by the House. His condition at that time was worse than it is to-day, because the cost of living was higher then than it is now. The House came to a certain conclusion, and increased the pensions by a certain proportion. Today the pre-War pensioner is in a better position than he was then. But the other factor is one of immense importance. The country is in an infinitely worse position to-day than in 1920 for the granting of relief. Look at our revenue, as anticipated with the current year, compared with 1920, and as it is anticipated to last for some time. You have to recollect also that what you propose for this year you must carry out for some years to come. You will not be in a better position next year than now to grant this relief.
There is one other matter. A considerable part of the argument addressed 506 to the House by certain hon. Members was based on the theory that the pension granted to old soldiers and sailors was intended to be something which would be sufficient for their subsistence for the rest of their lives. That is a totally erroneous point of view. The fact is that the soldier and sailor are supposed to retire from their profession at a time when they are still of sufficient physical vigour to earn a livelihood in some other walk of life. No one has ever pretended that the pension granted in these circumstances is such as will maintain a man and his family in full subsistence. This proposal undoubtedly means a considerable sum of money.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I think exactly the same rule applies, so far as the pensions of the Navy and Army are concerned. I say this involves a considerable sum of money. It means £700,000 in the present year, and it also means—and this is a cogent fact brought forward by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury—a demand from many other pensioners which would involve a sum of £5,000,000 a year, if it were granted. My Noble Friend the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) said the whole system of our pensions was illogical. I entirely agree. I am one of those who would desire, like him, to see an investigation conducted in regard to these pensions, and some readjustment of them made. But, although the system is illogical, and although we cannot, by any process which could be carried out to-night, bring complete logic into the system, yet there is this logic, which seems to me to be applicable to all these situations in Parliament—where one class in the community gets a particular advantage, every other class claims a corresponding advantage. I do not know that any hon. Member who has spoken to-night will guarantee that the House will resist claims similar to this on behalf of these other classes of pensioners if this is granted. I go so far as to say that I doubt whether any hon. Member who has spoken in favour of the Motion would guarantee his own vote were such claims made. Accordingly I put it to the House that we cannot afford to indulge, at the present time, in these forms of expenditure, however laudable they may be.
507 The best way to bring about a better condition of things for all classes of the community is to limit our expenditure, and not to increase it. Not merely would this form of expenditure bring about additional hardship to all classes in the community, but in the end, by raising the cost of living, would bring injury to the very people it is intended to benefit.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I only intervene for a few moments. Like the Chancellor of the Exchequer— [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up!"] If hon. Members listen they will hear. Like the Chancellor, I am by racial instinct an economist, but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that there is such a thing as justice as well as economy. The Motion we are discussing asks that we should bestow justice on a very deserving section of the community. The Chancellor told us that other sections of the community had to make sacrifices during the trying times through which we have passed as well as the pre-War pensioners. May I also remind the right hon. Gentleman that there are degrees in sacrifice as there are degrees in other things While some sections of the community may have had to make a sacrifice as compared with pre-War times, it has not been a sacrifice that has brought them to the point of starvation. In the case of the men with which this Resolution deals, men paid from 7s. to 10s. a week, it means virtual starvation to them, when one takes into account the present high costs of living. The Secretary to the Treasury, in the admirable speech that he made from his point of view, told us that the cure for this condition of things was that we should refuse all forms of expenditure, with a view to bringing about greater prosperity in the country than exists under present conditions. I should like to ask both the Secretary to the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, supposing we did that and prosperity did come, how much of it would be enjoyed by the men whose cause we are pleading to-night? How much of the prosperity of a country can be enjoyed by men who are getting from 7s. to 10s. a week?
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury also told us that if he accepted this Resolution he would have to consider the case of the pensions of the officers as well. The seconder of this Resolution, in a 508 very admirable speech, said that if it came to a choice of nothing being done unless the case of the officers were taken into consideration also, he believed that the officers, rather than see nothing done, would be prepared to give way. There is a vast difference between the position of the officers and that of the men for whom we are pleading. In the officers' case, while their pensions may not be on the same scale as those of the officers who served in the recent War, they are at least getting as much as will enable them to live in some degree of comfort; whereas the men, with whom this Resolution deals, are not getting as much as will enable them to live in any degree of comfort. Many of them are getting such a miserable pittance that it means actual starvation. While I am, as I have said, an economist and anxious to see economy enforced, I think the services rendered by the men with whom we are dealing has been of such value to the country that their case really ought to be considered.
I had hoped, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer followed the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings, that he was going to take up the suggestion which the Noble Lord made that some special form of inquiry should be set up. I think that some special form of inquiry should be set up, and set up quickly. If you are going to deal with the case of these men, whatever you do must be done quickly, because within 10 years, in the natural course of events, these men will all have died, and you will then have no opportunity of doing anything for them. Whatever we are going to do in their case ought to be done now. Notwithstanding that the country is not as rich as it was a number of years ago, I think that justice demands that the case of these men should come under review, and I add my appeal to those which have already been made in favour of the Motion.
§ Mr. REMER
I came down here with quite an open mind to listen to the Debate and to form my judgment as to the question which has been put before us, and I must say that I have been more than convinced by the speeches which I have heard against the Motion, and particularly by the speech of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I think it is absolutely necessary that we should in the strongest possible way put our foot 509 down against these attempts that are being made to spend more money. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson), when he tells the House that he belongs to a party of economy, must be ignorant of what his party have done, and when we remember that during the past few weeks that party have actually brought forward Resolutions which meant the spending of no less than £65,000,000, it will be realised how futile such a remark was.
§ Mr. BANTON
rose in Ives place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Mr. BANTON
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
Sir J. DAVIDSON
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Mr. BANTON
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Mr. S. WALSH
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his 510 assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.