§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
I beg to move,That, in the opinion of this House, those pensions to which the provisions of the Pensions (Increase) Acts, 1920 and 1924, apply should be placed upon a basis more closely commensurate with the scale of postwar pensions payable for similar service; and further, that pre-War pensioners should be freed from restrictions in regard to age and private means, winch do not operate in the case of post-War pensioners and which have the effect of depriving them of the benefits of their past service and thrift.I hope that the reception which has been given to the Bill just introduced by my hon. Friend is a good augury, and that the proposition I have to make will be accepted with an equal unanimity. My plea is on behalf of a body of State servants, and it is because these men have served the State that I am sure the House will be willing to listen to their ease and to remove the grievances from which they suffer. Ten years ago there were 127,000 of these pre-War pensioners. To-day there are only 70,000, of whom 40,000 enjoy the benefits of the Pensions (Increase) Acts referred to in my Motion. It is on behalf of this small number of survivors that I plead this afternoon. The cost of meeting their claim is infinitesimal. Death has diminished the figure. We have a moral obligation towards these men and it has been repeatedly acknowledged in this House.
It is because their numbers have so much declined that this Motion becomes a matter of urgency. Otherwise I would never have ventured at a time of financial stringency to advocate the expenditure of public money on any matter which could be postponed. But this Motion, if it is moved in two or three years' time, will be an anachronism, and everyone to whom it refers will be dead. Therefore I am certain that the House will not be prejudiced against me on account of the financial position of the country. Besides, as I hope to show, the House has really voted money for these pensions. All I am asking is that that sum which the House has already approved shall be spent upon them.
What is the general case applying to all these pre-War pensioners? After the War, as a result in many cases of agitation, and in some cases of what I would like to believe was conscience, the pay 1696 and pensions of all State servants were increased, generally by at least three times. Committees were appointed to examine into the conditions of pay and pensions. They all reported in the same sense, namely, that the old scales of pay and pensions were utterly indefensible, and they recommended that an increase should be made. The Jerram Committee was the particular Committee which inquired into Naval pensions. The Desborough Committee inquired into Police pensions. The Jerram Committee was presided over by a distinguished Admiral and staffed by a number of officers. It was assisted by a number of assessors from the lower deck. It visited all the naval ports. It examined witnesses and in the end it offered its conclusion to the House. What did it say It said:
The revised scales of pensions …That is pensions three times greater than before—to apply to all pensioners now on the roll.That was the recommendation of the Jerram Committee. Did the Government accept it? They accepted everything that the Committee recommended, but they did not apply it to those pensioners who were already on the roll. They fixed an arbitrary date. They said that all pensioners who retired before such and such a date must remain on the old scale of pensions, which was perfectly inadequate, and all pensioners who retired after that date should have a pension three times greater. It is all a question of the arbitrary date. When a man goes to draw his pension the paymaster does not ask him, "Have you served 26 years in the police force or 21 years in the Army or 22 years in the Navy?" He says, "On what date did you retire? If you happened to retire before 1st April, 1919, you get a pension on the old scale, but if you retired five minutes after that you get a pension three times the size, although you have worked in harder conditions and for one-third of the pay." I suggest that that is a grievance which the House of Commons would wish to remedy. It can he done at very small cost. I am sure that the present system will not be justified by the Government, because they will remember that in 1925 the Conservatives introduced a Measure giving pensions to widows and others. The Government were not satisfied with that 1697 Measure, and they introduced an amending Bill. What did the Minister of Health say at the time? He said:But in establishing, as the late Government did, a contributory scheme of pensions and allowances, people of the same type as those for whom the scheme was intended were inevitably excluded. That arises from the fact that an arbitrary date was fixed … The main principle of this Bill is to bring within the scope persons for whom the original Act was intended, but who, by a pure accident of date, are excluded from its provisions."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1929; col. 371, Vol. 231.]4.0 p.m.
That is the crux of my Motion, if it is good enough to remove an arbitrary date which affects hundreds of thousands of people, it is good enough to remove it for 40,000 old men, most of whom are over 76 years of age. On that ground, I am convinced that the Government will not resist the Motion which I now move. When this arbitrary date was fixed, neither the pensioners nor the House of Commons were satisfied. They went to the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day and they said, "An arbitrary date keeps us out of Paradise. Will you not let us in?" He said, "I agree that you have got a very good case. In principle, I cannot resist it for a moment, but then there are hundreds of thousands of you, and it will cost a great deal to put that grievance right. Therefore, I will go some of the way. I will introduce a Pensions (Increase) Act." And introduce that Act he did. It gave small increases—how small will illustrate in a moment. It did not bring the pensioners anywhere near the post-War scale, and it made it very difficult for them to get the increases at all, because it hedged the Act round with restrictions. The pensioner had to be resident in the British Isles. He had to be 60 years of age. He had to submit to a means test. None of these restrictions apply to the post-War pensioner whose pension is given to him as part of his retired pay. Whatever the virtues of a means limit when the State is making the grant on the basis of necessity, those virtues do not apply here. It hedged the pensioner about with these restrictions, and it gave very small increases.
Unfortunately, Governments are strong and back benchers are weak, and three years had to elapse before an hon. Member sitting on the other side of the 1698 House was fortunate enough to draw, as I have drawn, a place in the Ballot, and he selected this particular question which we are now discussing. His Motion was very similar to my own. Nobody opposed it, and I hope it will not be opposed this afternoon. On the contrary, everybody spoke in favour of it. Perhaps it was because of the eloquence of my hon. Friend the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, whose speech I would like to hand in, in order to save me the trouble of continuing, for it contains all the arguments anyone could hope to advance in support of this Motion. The House of Commons accepted that Motion unanimously. The Government in whose lifetime it was carried, went to the polls in search of a protective tariff, and they were defeated. My hon. Friends who now sit on the Front Bench succeeded them, and introduced a Pensions (increase) Act. It did not carry out any of the pledges to which the House of Commons had committed itself by that Motion. It did not abolish the means limit inquiry; it left it exactly where it was. It did not abolish the age limit restriction. It did, however, enable a pensioner to draw his pension in whatever part of the British Empire he might find himself, and on that account it was welcome, but, for the rest, it gave only very small increases, and nobody in this House, except the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was hold enough to support the Measure. Every hon. Member who spoke, including those who sat behind the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, criticised, and so bitter was their criticism that the Financial Resolution had actually to be withdrawn. However, it reappeared in very much the same form. We were told that that would do to go on with, and so we had to accept that Pensions (Increase) Bill.
What is the result of these two Acts which are now upon the Statute Book? The result is that a teacher, for example —and the same principle applies to all the services—whose pension was £37 4s. as a pre-War pension, got an increase under the Act of 1920 which brought his pension up to £55 14s. The effect of the Act of my hon. Friend opposite was to raise it to £63 4s., but the post-War 1699 pension remained somewhere between £120 and £320 per annum. So your old teacher—and every one of these men is now over 76 years of age—for a life-time of service, given in much harder conditions, gets £63 4s., because he is separated by an arbitrary date from his post-War brother, who gets several times that amount. I do not want to weary the House with figures, but that is the general principle of my Motion. In no case do these pre-War pension increases bring the pre-War pensioner anywhere within reaching distance of the post-War pensioner. They are all separated by very large distances.
The case of the police is even more striking. What is the effect of the arbitrary date there? A constable gets a greater pension than the superintendent under whom he served, because he is separated by one day. Nobody is going to justify that. A superintendent to-day gets a pension of £370. It is almost the highest rank in the force. A pre-War superintendent, with all the increases, gets only £145, and a constable gets £163, or something of that kind. Nobody can justify a principle of that kind, and surely it was not intended. Nobody has ever attempted to justify it in this House, and I am sure, for reasons I will presently give the hon. Gentleman, he will not attempt to justify it. Before these pensions can be given, every year the pre-War pensioner has to fill in a form for a very meagre pension. He may be getting, if an army man, £37 as a maximum. He has to fill in this form every year. It consists of three pages, full of the most extraordinary questions, the last of which is:Any other income or receipts whatsoever from other sources, including free maintenance received, if any, either in money or in kind, stating the yearly value of such income, receipts or maintenance, and giving particulars of the same.An old sailor or an old soldier has to fill in this form every year—the particulars are very confusing. He has to take it to a Justice of the Peace, or someone in an equivalent position, who has to countersign it, and a police constable comes round to verify it. A whole staff of officials has to be kept at the Treasury and in every locality in the United Kingdom in order to judge each pension, not on the man's service, not on 1700 any flat-rate basis, but in accordance with a number of other facts. Consequently, the staff kept by the Treasury, both at headquarters and in the localities, must be enormous. I ask the hon. Gentleman to do away with that staff, and to give the salaries to these men. If the hon. Member would do that, he would go a great deal of the way towards meeting my case.
So much for the case on its merits. But it has another aspect. The Pensions (Increase) Act, 1924, was never supposed to be final. Things have happened since 1924. They have happened in regard to the means limit, for instance, because the Rating and Valuation Bill has put up the assessments of all these people's houses, and, consequently, they have to fill in this return and value their houses at a higher rental, and their pensions are decreased thereby. But other things have increased since 1924. There has been an Election since then, and these old chaps, who have never lost hope, circulated an inquiry to all Members of Parliament. The inquiry was in this form:Being of opinion that the pre-war rank and file pensioners, including warrant officers, of both Services are unjustly treated, and that their pensions should he forthwith reassessed in accordance with the findings of the Jerram Committee"—which findings I have just read to the House—and Army Order 323/19, I promise to press for the award of that committee, in lieu of the present unjust and wholly unsatisfactory Pension (Increase) Acts, 1920–24.The first signature on the form which I have here as an example is, I see, that of the Chief Whip for the Government. Is the Chief Whip going to help his followers into the Lobby against the very thing he has promised to use his influence to rectify? I refuse to believe that. Nothing can convince me that that can be the case. The hon. Gentleman has been many years in this House. He knows this case inside out, and, after due reflection, he decided to tell the pre-War pensioners at the last election that he would press for the total abolition of the means limit inquiry, for the abolition of the age restriction, and for the putting of these men on the post-War scale. Therefore, I am confident of his action this afternoon. The same applies to four or five right 1701 hon. Gentlemen who hold high Ministerial office, who did not disdain to give this pledge. It has even been given by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who is going to answer me this afternoon. I do not want to do him an injustice. I hope he is not going to promise me less than he promised in this letter, written in the Leicester election:The point is certainly one which ought not to be neglected, and I should be favourable to another inquiry being undertaken into the operation of the Acts 1920–1924.Is the hon. Gentleman still in favour of an inquiry? We are going to hear him this afternoon. He was not satisfied with dealing with the slip of paper which was sent to him; he had to write a letter. The question has never been considered as settled, and that is a very important argument, because if you keep expectancy alive there must sooner or later come a time when you are going to give your decision. When the Act of 1924 was before the House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave a very guarded pledge. He is always guarded, but he did say this:I have every sympathy with these people, and, if I could do it, it would be a great pleasure to me; but, in view of the commitments of the Government …. we cannot …. be as generous as we would like to be. We are doing the best we can now."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th June, 1924; col. 1546, Vol. 174.]The effect of a statement of that kind on pre-War pensioners is to continue to aspire to the remedy of their grievances. They read those speeches just as they read the pledges which have been given to them, and they go on hoping that something will he done. Nothing has ever happened to lead them to believe that the matter is ended. The right hon. Gentleman who was Financial Secretary to the Treasury in the former Labour Administration, in introducing the Financial Resolution in connection with the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1924, used words with which I should like to conclude my speech on this Motion:Having regard to all the facts and keeping in mind the consideration that the door is not necessarily closed as regards the future, I ask the Committee to pass this Resolution."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1924; col. 1875, Vol. 173.]He said that the door was not necessarily closed. These old men have come up here from every part of the country this 1702 afternoon. is the hon. Gentleman the present Financial Secretary going to bang the door in their faces?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I beg to second the Motion.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) upon his good fortune in getting such a high place in the ballot, and also upon taking the very first opportunity of exposing to the House the grave injustices and grievances under which these members of the community suffer. My hon. Friend has identified himself for a great many years with this movement and his intimate knowledge of the movement, and the care with which he has gone into individual cases, has enabled him to-day to deliver a speech which can be characterised as being of his usual brilliance. He made reference to certain pledges which had been given to these men. My own view about pledges is that they are very often embarrassing and very often unprofitable but I think it is wise to recall to the memory of the House, the fact that two previous Parliaments passed unanimous Resolutions in favour of adequate provision being made for these old servants of the State in the evening of their days.
Many of these old servants of the State are known to us individually in our constituencies. They are, in almost all cases, fine types of old men who have done their duty to the State faithfully and well for long periods and on miserable pittances in the past. Reference has been made by the Mover of the Motion to the Act of 1920 which was passed by one Government, and to the Act of 1924 which was passed by another Government. I am not going into the various sections of those Acts, but the very fact that they were passed shows quite clearly, first, that there is a case for this Motion as presented by my hon. Friend this afternoon, and, secondly, that the House of Commons on two occasions, when it included different Members from those who sit here to-day, was prepared to recognise that hardship existed in these cases. But the more one studies these two Acts the more one becomes sure that such recognition as was given to these men was not by any means generous. Anomalies and injustices remain. I would recall to the House one economic fact, namely, that wages or pay ought 1703 to bear a fair and adequate relation to the cost and standard of living. In my view pensions arc deferred pay, and our case is that this deferred pay should, in these cases, be increased so as to make it equal in purchasing power to what it was before the War. That is our case in a nutshell.
During the War and immediately after it, great pressure was brought to bear on the various Departments of the State to increase the pay and pensions of the various servants of the State. It happens that I held office at that period and had to bear the brunt of that pressure, and therefore I can speak—particularly as I was afterwards Minister of Pensions—with some little knowledge, if not with some authority, on the subject. The plea then put forward was that the cost of living had changed so enormously that it was necessary, at once, first to increase the pay—which in the case of the soldier was miserable, as we all know, at that time when we were in the midst of a great War—and, secondly, to increase pensions or deferred pay in the same proportion. Various Commissions were appointed, and the result was that in every Department of the State there was a great increase both in the pay, and in the future emoluments in the shape of pensions, of those in actual service.
As far as I know nobody grudged the generous increases granted at that time. They were granted, not because the services which were being rendered then were more honourably performed than the services which had already been given by those former servants of the State for whom we plead to-day. They went through the same period of faithful service as men who are drawing pensions, to-day, three and four times as great as the pre-War pensions. As the Mover of the Motion has pointed out, the whole thing turns upon an arbitrary date. I have a statement here prepared by these old men themselves which has, no doubt, been sent to every Member of the House. My first quotation from it refers to widows who are to be considered on this occasion just as much as the men themselves:To the widow of any police officer or pensioned police officer who was serving in any police force on or after let September, 1918. a pension is awarded, varying from 1704 £30 to £50 per annum, according to the rank of the officer on retirement. The widows of officers who retired before that date, when the pay of a policeman of any rank was meagre and inadequate, and left no margin for saving, is granted no pension, although there is no distinction whatever between her and her more fortunate sister save the arbitrary one provided by the date, 1st September, 1918.I take another quotation dealing this time with the case of the men themselves:The anomaly was created that a man who retired after 1st April, 1019, received more than twice as much pension as the man who retired on the day before, although the latter might have served for a longer period and in fact might have held higher rank.It seems to me that that is an utterly inconsistent and grossly unfair position and we are here to-day to do our level best to have those grievances remedied. The Acts of 1920 and 1921 not only left grievances of that kind, but they added another grievance which is referred to in the second part of the Motion. I refer to the restrictions in regard to age and private means. The Motion makes it clear that we desire those restrictions to be swept away. As to age, my hon. Friend has eloquently pointed out that these men are an ever-diminishing number. They are growing older every day. The figures which the Mover of the Motion has produced in regard to numbers are very startling. As to the question of private means, and the inquisition into that matter, we heard a great deal on that subject yesterday and I believe that, in the stock phrase, there is a dislike of close inquiry. But the extraordinary thing about the case of these men is that the more thrifty they have been or their wives have been in the management of their homes the more they are penalised under this system. I take one further quotation from the document produced by these old men themselves:Those of our men who have managed, out of their meagre earnings, to save money are penalised, and those who have not saved money are quite unable to sustain themselves on their small pensions. They have been and are, in many cases, dependent on State or private benefactions. Surely there can be no reason why those who have served the State for the whole of their working lives should be placed in this unfortunate position, as compared with their successors whose pensions have been put on a scale commensurate with the cost of living.1705 I do not know what answer the Financial Secretary will give to this claim, but I imagine he must have some qualms of conscience after having listened to the letter which my hon. Friend got from the archives of the pre-War pensioners. Probably the argument will be that we are living in a time of great financial stringency. If the amount for which we ask is small, we shall be told that that is no justification, in principle, for granting it. But I have been in this House fairly constantly since the present Government came into power and I have heard millions of pounds being granted for work on the Zambesi and in Palestine and in every corner of the globe. I hold very strongly the view, and I have expressed it inside and outside this House, that our own people should be looked after first. I am satisfied that the claim which we are pressing to-day is just and equitable. Whatever other economies may be effected by this or any other Parliament it is a claim which will be acknowledged by the people of this country. They do not forget their old servants, and I believe I shall carry with me every hon. Member when I say that the House of Commons would be false to the conception of government if it did not realise this opportunity and give what is fair and just and equitable to these men who have faithfully served the State in the past.
Major-General Sir JOHN DAVIDSON
My remarks on this subject will be very brief, but I feel it my duty to offer a few comments on this Resolution, for two reasons. First of all, I happen to be President of the Navy and Army Pensioners' Association, and my sympathies have always been with these old men, who are suffering financially now because they were too old to serve in the Great War. I feel very deeply that these old men, many of whom are here in this House this afternoon, will, after hearing the speeches to-day, go back home with optimistic feelings, but that nothing will come of this debate to-day, for reasons which I will give afterwards. My second reason is that mine is not a belated interest in these old pensioners. Ever since I have been in this House, for over 12 years, I have taken an interest in these old men and tried to do my best to protect their interests, and I was very largely responsible myself for the Pen- 1706 sions (Increase) Act of 1924. I have kept myself fully posted with all the arguments and details of this case week by week, interviewing old pensioners who are suffering under the disabilities of which we are complaining to-day.
I am not going into the history or a detailed discussion of their case. It has already been mentioned by the two previous speakers, and I suppose every Member in this House is fully acquainted with the facts, as they have been circulated by the various interests concerned. It cannot be contested that the pre-War man is drawing a substantially lower pension than the post-War man, in spite of the fact that he is very much older and, as has been said already, many of these men—nearly all of them—are over 70. I should think the average age comes out at something over 75, and they are incapable of working. It has been stated in this House that they have no grievance because they served under a contract. That is the legal case, but it has never been seriously urged that that is a reason for not granting them an increase of pension.
Increases of pension have been made on two occasions, but it is only a partial relief at best. This is a hardship due to the War, and, like most hardships due to the War, it falls on the shoulders of those who are least able to defend themselves. The railway-men and the municipal workers, for example, I am quite sure, would not tolerate such treatment. Political action would have been taken by their unions long before now, but these old soldiers and sailors in particular are an exceptionally loyal section of the community, and even if they could, they would not hold the State to ransom for their own advantage.
What is perfectly clear to me is that none of the parties, Conservative, Liberal, or Labour, will, under the present financial conditions of the country, face the expenditure required for the purpose of this Resolution. If it were applicable to the Navy and the Army only, the cost would be very small indeed, but similar claims have been put in by the police, the teachers, and others. It is well known that the Conservative party, after the recent advance in the pensions, refused to consider any further alleviation. They agreed in 1923 to the Pensions (Increase) 1707 Bill; that Bill was drawn up before they left office, and it was adopted, with certain modifications, by the Labour party, who brought it in and passed it in 1924. It is also well known, I think, that the present Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was asked to receive a deputation on this subject, not only refused to consider the subject altogether, but refused to meet the deputation. I think everybody will agree that that is a point blank refusal of this by the Labour party, so that we have little to look for from our friends opposite in this respect.
Now what about the Liberal party? They are in the comfortable position of being able to promise anything, because they know quite certainly that they will never be called upon to accept a responsible position and put into operation any of their promises. What a comfortable position for any Liberal, especially one in whose constituency there is a large number of these pre-War pensioners—such a constituency, for example, as that of Devonport. I can quite understand this Resolution being moved, and I do my hon. Friend the justice to desire that all that he has suggested should he put through, but what I complain about—and I think it is a despicable action on anybody's part—is to come to this House and move a Resolution of this sort, when they know perfectly well that it has been turned down point blank by both the parties who are likely to come into power in the future. That is what I dislike intensely.
I think the more straightforward course is to tell these people the position frankly, and to give them advice and warning that they are not likely to get what they want. In any free vote of this House, the pre-War pensioners will get plenty of sympathy of the sort now offered to them, but when the Whips are put on by either the party opposite or this party, they will not get the pension scale which they want, though, in view of the proximity of a General Election, I should not be in the least surprised to see the Labour party turn round and vote for this Resolution this afternoon. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I had experience of this five years ago, when practically every Member on the Front Bench of the Labour party pledged 1708 himself to give all they wanted to these pensioners. Did they do it? No, not one of them spoke up for them. Personally, I should advise the Conservative party against taking any action in this matter at all. I should advise them not to promise now what they know they will not be in a position to fulfil, and I sincerely trust that the pensioners will be warned, that they will know what the true position is, and that they will not go away with that feeling of optimism that they are going to get something which I doubt whether either party is prepared to give them.
§ Mr. W. J. BROWN
I wish to make it clear in my opening sentence that I am supporting the Resolution which has been moved, and that I shall go into the Lobby in its support. I should like to say, too, that, much as I admired the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution, I rather regretted the tones of the speech to which we have just listened. I feel that regret for two reasons. In the first place, it seemed to me to import a purely party point of view into what ought not in any circumstances to be a party matter, and I regretted it secondly because it seemed to me to be profoundly unjust to the Liberal party.
It is quite true that the Liberal party is emphatic in its demand for reductions in national expenditure. It is equally true that the Liberal party supports increases in national expenditure. And when the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) to-day proposes this increase in national expenditure, it really means that he and his party are much more right in their actions than in their philosophy. Provided they go into the right Lobby at the right time, that ought not to be a matter of reproach to them, because the outstanding impression left upon my mind after 15 months in this place is that, by and large, there is very little relation between the philosophy of any party and its actions here in this House.
I want to begin by asking who it is that is affected by the terms of this Resolution. The people affected comprise civil servants, teachers, Army and Navy pensioners, pensioners of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and, finally, pensioners of police forces all over the country. 1709 That is the scope of this Resolution, and it affects a number of people variously estimated at between 40,000 and 50,000. The present legislation of this House provides increases on the pre-War pensions of these people as follows: Where a pension does not exceed £25 pre-War, there is an increase of 70 per cent.; where the pension is between £25 and £50, there is an increase of 65 per cent.; where the pension is between £50 and £100, there is an increase of 50 per cent.; between £100 and £150, if the man is single, there is an increase of 30 per cent., and, if he is married, of 40 per cent.; and for pensions between £150 and £200, if the man is married, there is an increase of 30 per cent., but if he is unmarried, no increase at all.
That is the effect of the Acts of 1920 and 1024 put together, and I suggest that there are two very simple tests which can be applied to determine whether those increases are adequate or not under present conditions. One test is that of how the percentage increase compares with the actual increase in the cost of living, and the second test is as to how the revised pensions of the pre-War men compare with the pensions now given to men of a similar grade retired at the present time. It is interesting Lo apply separately both those tests to the pensions as they are left by the Act of 1924. The present index figure of the cost of living is 56, but it is not 56 for the purposes of comparison here, because, in all sliding scale arrangements for salary or pension, the practice is to take the average cost of living figure over a period, not the actual cost of living figure on a particular date. In the Civil Service the practice is to take an average of six months, and in other cases it varies between three months and a year. If we took an appropriate average figure we should take one of about 65 per cent., according to the index figure of the Ministry of Labour. That means that every pensioner, except pensioners who are in receipt of £50 a year or less, are receiving an increase since the 1920 and 1924 Acts of substantially less than the percentage increase in the cost of living as measured by the index figure.
It goes very much further than that. I assert that the index figure is not an accurate measurement of the actual rise in the cost of living of people situated 1710 as these pensioners are. Very many items that enter into the expenditure of a working-class family find no trace in the calculations of the Ministry of Labour in preparing the index figure. Many items do figure in their calculations in respect of which the weighting allowance is open to serious challenge. There are still other items where an over-riding percentage increase is allowed, as in the case of rent, which is based upon the assumption that everyone is occupying a house which is still subject to the Rent Restriction Acts, although it is notorious that there are whole ranges of houses that have been decontrolled, and that even in areas that are still controlled, where occupation has been entered into after a certain date, the original Rent Restriction Act ceases to apply. No one who has been compelled to make a study, as I have, in Civil Service affairs, of the relation between living costs and the index figure, would affirm without grave qualifications that the index figure is an accurate measurement of the upward movement in prices.
The hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion drew attention to the fact that our Chief Whip on this side was a signatory to the pledge given to the pre-War pensioners that something should be done to set right the sense of injustice from which they suffer. The Chief Whip also has relations with me—very often strained relations—and he has been good enough to send me a statement for my guidance as to what the Government's policy is to be on this Motion. I should like to say in passing that I do not like to see that sort of thing happen on private Members' Motions. When a Motion is introduced by a private Member, he might at least be allowed to discuss the matter on its merits without having statements made to us privately about the Government policy before those statements are made in the House of Commons. What is the kind of statement which, unless the Government take warning, we are likely to get from the Front Bench to-day? It is that if the Government are to do anything, they ought to bring the present pensions into line with the present cost-of-living index figure, and that if that happened, since the index figure is only 56 per cent. above pre-War levels, all those pen- 1711 sioners who are now getting 70 per cent. or 65 per cent. would have to come down.
I find it difficult to characterise that argument as it deserves to be characterised. In the first place, the index figure is only one criterion; in the second place, the correct index figure to-day is not 56 but, as I have tried to demonstrate, 65; and in the third place, why is it necessary to reduce anybody's inadequate pension when for many years past they have been paid a stationary figure regardless of the index figure? The index figure has moved from 230 in 1920 up to 276 in 1921–22 to the present point of 156. If one took the average over that period, it becomes apparent that in those years these men have been exceedingly badly treated. For the Government to say, when it is suggested that some increase should now be made, that those who happen to be getting a little above the present index figure level will have to have their pensions reduced, is a very unworthy and ungenerous argument to use.
Let us look at the other test, which is the relation between the pension given to these men and the pensions now given to men who retire from the same grade in post-War conditions. There are in the service of the State teachers, police, civil servants, soldiers and sailors, and since the 1920 Act was passed there have been revisions of pay; every revision in basic pay automatically under the Superannuation Acts affects the amount of pension which is received by members of the various grades when they retire from the Service. In the case of the Navy, the disparity is so great that men retiring now draw three times as much as the pre-War pensioner. In the case of the teachers, the increases under the Burnham scale have to be taken into account, and a large gap between pre-War and post-War pensions will be left. In the Civil Service, there have been various readjustments of pay of different kinds in different grades, which it is very difficult to assess in terms of an all-over percentage, but the same broad observation would he true, that there is a big gap between pre-War and post-War pensions on the Civil Service side. Finally, it is within the knowledge of every Member that in the Police service, there have been sub- 1712 stantial increases of pay in the post-War period, and there again it will be found that the same gap between pre-War and post-War pensions exists. Neither by reference to the test of present living costs, nor by reference to the test of how post-War pensions compare with pre-War, is the maintenance of the present level of pensions defensible from our point of view.
Another argument which is sometimes used, and may sometimes be used justly, when Governments are asked to spend more money, is: "Granted that there is urgent need here, somewhere else there is still more urgent need, and therefore, with all the sympathy in the world, we think that there are other people more deserving of better treatment than those in this particular category; and therefore we regretfully withhold the money." This Government represent a party—if that is not too strong a term—which in 30 years of propaganda has insisted that the first duty of employers is to the workmen who work in their industry. That argument applies just as much to Governments as to private employers. The Government's first duty is to those who do the Government's work, and the Government are not entitled to escape from the logic and the justice of the demand for an improvement here by referring us to some other people somewhere else whose case will fall to be dealt with at a different point of time.
The hon. Member who preceded me said that there was nothing to hope for from the Government because their attitude was known in advance, and that when Governments speak back benchers can do very little because Governments have their way. On the last occasion when there was a debate resembling this in principle, the Government did not have their way, and they were beaten at the last. I refer to the ease of the Lytton entrants into the Civil Service, and I refer to it in order to strengthen the plea which I make to the Financial Secretary not to give us the kind of reply which we have been told represents Government policy in this matter. On the occasion to which I refer I asked for justice for a large number of ex-service men now employed in the Civil Service. We received a reply from the then Financial Secretary—and the coincidence is ominous—expressing just as completely 1713 the Treasury point of view as does the forecast we have had of the reply to-day. The reply affronted the sense of justice of the House, and the net result of the Division on that occasion was that the Government were beaten by seven votes. That led in turn to the setting up of a committee, which did something to put right the particular grievance about which complaint was then made.
That happened then; it may happen today, and, when the Financial Secretary feels tempted to put up the orthodox Treasury view about this, I would remind him of a saying of Lord Curzon, that the Treasury consists of extraordinarily able men who are almost invariably wrong. I hope that we are not going to get the Treasury officials' point of view this afternoon. I know many of them; I respect them and admire their ability, but I frequently do not admire the kind of test which they bring to bear upon this kind of problem. The instinct of this House is sounder on matters of this kind than the instincts of the Treasury, and I beg the Financial Secretary not to let the amount of money which is involved in this thing—and I would stress the point that it is a charge which extinguishes itself in a comparatively short period—preclude him from saying that he will give effect to what he believes is the general view of all parties in the House, that die position of the pre-War pensioner is unsatisfactory, that it is a reproach to us, and that it ought to be put right.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Sir BERTRAM FALLE
I have fought this case of the pre-War pensioners from the very beginning. My first attempt was made and was recognised by the then Premier in July, 1919, who was good enough to fell me that I could be hopeful. I brought forward then the ease of the Royal Navy only, and I did it for this reason. Though the Royal Naval pre-War pensioners were a very small body, I was perfectly well aware that the Jerram rate could not be given to them and denied to the pensioners of the Army, and immediately the Army and the Civil Service found there was a possibility of the Navy getting the pension in full they said, "We will force the Government, if they grant it to any single force under the Crown, to grant it to all." I am sorry to say that, perhaps, they did not trust me, and they 1714 certainly did not trust the Government then in office. We had a big and fully representative meeting in the House. There must have been nearly 100 Members present. I pleaded with them to allow the Navy to get the increase first, telling them that if the Navy got it it would be impossible to deny it to the others. There was one Member in that large assembly—he represented Altrincham at that time—who was kind enough to give me his vote, and he was the only one. The whole matter fell to the ground, and we succeeded only to the extent of getting a first ex gratia payment, a second ex gratia grant being made later. It was quite inadequate, no doubt, but at any rate it was something, and the old men who have fought for us in the past are, I believe, very grateful to the Members of the House, to the House itself and to the Government who were instrumental in getting them even that small increase. I do not believe in using adjectives such as "meagre" and "unjust," but it was a very small increase, and it really affected only those whose pensions were so entirely inadequate that starvation and the guardians lay before them.
We shall be met to-day, of course, as we were then, by the cry of the cost. If this had been confined to the Navy only the cost would have been exceedingly small, but we were told that it would run into millions if we were to pension everybody who had a claim in respect of a pre-War pension. At that time it ran into so many millions—I believe it was £5,000,000—that it was practically hopeless to ask any Government to put their name to the foot of the Bill. Since then many Members and Governments and would-be Governments have dangled promises before the noses and the eyes of the pre-War pensioner, and I am very much afraid that promises will continue to be dangled by Governments and, perhaps, by individuals. At the time I speak of, in 1919, we took time by the forelock. If you can get a horse by the forelock you have some power over him. If you wait until he gives you his tail, you have very little power. I am very much afraid that my friends have arrived at the time when they have lost the forelock, and I am inclined to ask whether they have even got hold of the tail. In my opinion it is undoubtedly our duty to give these old pensioners 1715 what is their due. The cost ought not to come into the matter. I am one of the rigid economists in the House, and last night I voted against what I thought was unnecessary expense, but I shall vote for a reasonable increase, if not for the Jerram increase, to all these poor old men who have fought in our wars and bled in our wars. As the sergeantmajor said: "The bayonets are pointed and the bullets are made of lead whether it is a small war or a big 'un."
I wish to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson). I helped him in securing the second ex gratia payment. He has fought all through for these men and he has the advantage of being absolutely honest and absolutely courageous, and he wants to tell our friends that whether it be a Socialist Government or whether it be a Conservative Government their chance of getting the Jerram scale is exceedingly small, and I must agree with him, having got to know a little about Governments during my 21 years in this House. Unless a Government can be forced one gets very little from it. Can we force this Government? If hon. Members opposite will do it I will work with them at any time, and always.
§ Sir B. FALLE
For this purpose, naturally. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) invites me to cross to that side. It would be a great pleasure and a great honour to sit near him, but I shall have to wait until he changes his politics. These poor old men, out of their small pensions, are subscribing monthly and yearly to keep their association together in the hope of influencing Members of this House. We have had from my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) some of the names in the list of those who promised before the election to help the pre-War pensioner. It is a long list. They have it in their power to help now, and we will help them, but is it fair to ask these old men to continue to pay out of their small pensions to keep their association going if there is no chance of their getting this increase this side of the Styx? We hear that the argument from 1716 the Treasury bench is to be that as the cost of living has fallen below 70 these people ought to have their small increases taken from them. The man who is paid £25 a year pension and has had it increased by 70 per cent. should have that 70 per cent. brought down to 56. I do not believe—
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence)
§ Sir B. FALLE
I am very glad to notice that sign of dissent from the hon. Gentleman, because I could hardly believe the statement. In the first place I do not think as a lawyer the Government could equitably do it, even if they could do it legally—it is a doubtful point; but they most certainly could not honestly or fairly do it and look the world in the face. I have always been of a hopeful disposition, and I have fought this matter for 12 years, and what I ask now is, Is there a possibility of more? From what the hon. Gentleman opposite appeared to indicate, that the view taken of the Treasury's attitude is a mistaken one, I trust he is going to tell us that there is a possibility. If he cannot give us all that we ask, at any rate I hope he will give us something. The Jerram scale may involve a heavy sum, and although I am entirely in favour of that scale, if he cannot give us all, will he not at any rate give us a large portion?
§ Mr. LONGDEN
I feel privileged to support this Motion, particularly that part which says:those pensions to which the provisions of the Pensions (Increase) Acts, 1920 and 1924, apply should be placed on a basis more closely commensurate with the scale of post-War pensions payable for similar service.The nation should see that it is a model employer. We here, as representatives of the electorate, ought not to look to private leaders of industry to provide model conditions for employés when we deny elementary justice to men who have been taken into the service of the nation during the past generation or so. Model employers we must he. At the same time, I was rather amazed when listening to the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson). If he and his friends had wished to grant an advance upon these lines, they have had much scope within their own party. We all know that the Labour Government granted an advance in 1924. As a 1717 colleague of mine has pointed out, in 1924 the pre-War pensions of £25 per annum were allowed a 70 per cent. increase. The rate of increase was graduated down on higher pensions, and it was 30 per cent. on pensions of £130 to £200. Obviously, the Labour Government do intend to improve the lot of the men whom we took from their homes for State service in this country and abroad.
Sir J. DAVIDSON
Probably the hon. Member was not in the House at the time, but the fact is that in 1923 the Conservative Government produced a Bill to give an increase. They went out of office in that year, and it was their Bill that was adopted and passed by the Labour Government.
§ Mr. LONGDEN
I merely pointed out that the Labour Government did bring that Measure into force in 1924. Had there been a Tory Government we might have had that Measure and we might not. In any case, the association representing these men tell us that if equity be extended to them there ought to be an increase not of 30 or 70 per cent., but up to 150 per cent. There are other figures that are supplied to us by the same association, and they tell us— and this is very alarming—that the pre-War Naval man received Is. 7d. per day and the post-War Naval man 2s. 10d. per day. The pre-War Army man received 1s. per day, while the post-War Army man received 2s. a day. In addition, it appears that pension is based upon the level of pay and service given at, the rate of id. per day for pre-War pensioners, and 1½d. per day for postwar pensioners.
There is an inherent discrepancy between pre-War and post-War pensions, and I agree with the hon. Member who said that we have no right to take into consideration too closely the index figures of the cost of living. There are many other things than merely nominal receipts to be taken into consideration. I have in my possession cases which I will quote of the higher grades in the Army. The officer classes are well cared for, and it appears to me that the lower the rank the worse are the conditions in terms of pay. The Government recognised this in 1924, when we were told that most ranges of 1718 poverty far below the £3 or £4 per week mark were in greater need of assistance. Of course they are. It is down on the lower levels where the greatest need is felt. I should like to quote from a circular which I have received from the National Association of Navy and Army Pensioners, which says:Those of our men who have managed, out of their meagre earnings, to save money are penalised, and those who have not saved money are quite unable to sustain themselves on their small pensions, and they have been, and are in many cases, dependent on the State or private benefactions.That can hardly be called a very happy state of things in 1930 under the Parliament of the British Empire. Perhaps it will be of interest to hon. Members if I read a short letter from a pensioner in my division of Deritend, who says:This is to be our last effort.That is rather a pathetic note. The letter proceeds:I am a man 54 years of age, and was invalided from abroad about 20 years ago. I managed to work, on and off, for about five years, hut this last 15 years I have been a chronic invalid, not able to leave the house, and yet I have to exist on a paltry pension of about 14s. a week to feed and clothe myself, and to buy medical comforts, which cost me on an average 3s. a week. I served upwards of 14 years in the Service, 12 of them beyond the seas.That is a tragic note. It is not the case of a man with £3 or £4 per week, but a man without any income whatsoever except a mean and despicable 14s. a week pension from a grateful State. That is why I wish to support this man's case. The circular issued by the National Association of Navy and Army Pensioners goes on to say:Our members rapidly decline year by year and to do us justice would cost an incredibly small sum of money.
§ Sir B. FALLE
In the letter which has just been quoted by the hon. Member, is it stated that the man was 54 years of age?
§ Sir B. FALLE
Then he would be 38 at the time the War broke out? If that is so, why did be not serve I
§ Mr. LONGDEN
He was invalided from the Army from abroad 20 years ago, and he has been chronically ill ever since. This man, after paying 3s. for his medical 1719 comforts, has 11s. a week to keep body and soul together. That state of things is not good enough, and it ought to be ended at the earliest possible moment. The circular from which I have quoted further states:We hope that this chance to lighten our burden in our old age will not be missed.I hope it will not be missed. This reminds me of the old song:Old soldiers never die; they only fade away.The country is permitting them to fade away, not by sudden death, but by a slow declining mind and body and spirit, and that is what a grateful nation does for the men whom it took from their homes to defend it. I hope the Government will allow us to have a free vote on this question. Why should we not have a free vote on a matter of this kind, which, although it may appear to be a small matter, involves a tremendous issue. It is a question of human values as seen from the State angle by representatives who believe that when we employ men to do our State work we should make certain that they are adequately paid and secure from poverty and misery throughout their day.
§ Major ROSS
It appears to me that no one can have any logical ground for resisting this Motion. The system of two scales of pension is one which cannot be supported by reason or logic. On this question the soldier, the sailor, the man in the Royal Irish Constabulary, the policemen and the teacher all stand together. I wish to address myself primarily to the Royal Irish Constabulary, not because I do not agree that all the other classes affected by this Motion are equally deserving, but because I am more concerned with this small class of men who were associated with a force which no longer exists. The relations of this House to the old members of the Royal Irish Constabulary is a rather peculiar one, because those men were the instrument by means of which the Government had to carry into effect the policy of this House. The men had no hand in devising that policy, but they were called upon to do their duty in times of bitterness and stress. It was the duty of these men to protect those who were boycotted, and we all know the great strain placed 1720 upon the small body of men who formed the Royal Irish Constabulary, who often had to face a large and hostile crowd. Let us now forget the bad old times and their passions and remember the faithful service of these poor old men who look to this country to make their old age comfortable as a reward for their past services.
The force was never a highly paid one. The pay of a constable in the Royal Irish Constabulary was only £70 a year after 20 years' service. I do not think that a man receiving £70 a year after 20 years' service is in a position to save very much. These men belonged to a long service force, and were dependent upon the pension which they hoped to receive. They enlisted in the expectation of a. pension, one adequate to the cost of living at the time. The pension has been fixed at an arbitrary figure, and I cannot imagine the State taking advantage of such a change of conditions as to give the men who enlisted in good faith such a bad bargain as they are getting at the present time.
What are the facts? I will compare the pensions of the pre-War constabulary with those of the post-War constabulary. The pensions of the post-War constabulary, though much higher, are certainly not much higher than the police pensions in this country. A head constable had a maximum annual pension before the War of £69 a year, while the maximum post-War pension is £236. A sergeant's pension before the War was £53, and post-War £195. A constable's pension before the War was £46 and post-War £164. It has already been pointed out by previous speakers that the Acts of 1920 and 1924 made additions, and I need not go into that point again.
I will take a typical case within my knowledge. I do not think that it is a particularly hard one, but it will give hon. Members an idea of the situation as it affects an old servant of the State who is now past work. This is the case of an ex-sergeant who had 32 years and 10 months' service in the force. He wore a sergeant's stripes for 20 years. He was pensioned in September, 1913, and, with the additions which are authorised, he now gets a pension of £83 4s. a year, or about 32s. a week, whereas a post-War sergeant would get £195 a year. Either 1721 all the pensions which we have in every service at present are wrong, or these old pensions are wrong, and I have little doubt as to what the opinion of this House would be in judging between those two alternatives.
It is not only that the pensions are very low, but, in the case of the old members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, there is even a deduction which is made from the miserably small pensions that they get. That is a contribution to what is called the "R.I.C. Force Fund," and, in the case of old members of the Constabulary, this deduction is still made from their pension. No one has become a subscriber to the fund since 1891. It was devised as, I suppose, a pension fund principally for the members of the Constabulary, hut appears to have been used for all sorts of purposes—outfit allowances for officers promoted from the ranks, awards and bounties to men who had done good service, and so on. The result was that as long ago as 1891 that fund got into a condition of confusion, and had to be assisted with money from the State.
What has been the action of the State from then onwards? It has been taking the contributions of these poor old men to pay the State back this money which was paid about 40 years ago. Most of the people who nay subscriptions to the R.I.C. Force Fund will get no benefit, or practically no benefit, for the subscriptions of a lifetime. For 36 years such agitation as has been possible has been going on for the winding up of this Fund and for the proper treatment of members who have to subscribe to it in respect of their contributions. If that Fund is allowed to go on any longer, in view of what I have said, namely, that apparently it is merely an attempt on the part of the State to get back from the few survivors of the Force that existed in 1891 money that was paid nearly 40 years ago, I think it is not good enough.
The Government will not have to pay for very long any addition which it may agree to pay, because there are only 1,000 odd left of the Royal Irish Constabulary who were pensioned off before the War. The vast majority of them are between 65 and 80 years of age, and they will not trouble any Government very long as regards pensions. It is said that politicians are forgetful of past services, and it is said that we do not care deeply 1722 for any measure which does not command a large number of votes. I am asking Members of this House to support the claim of a class whose period of usefulness is long over, and of a class that commands very few votes; and yet I do it with confidence, because I cannot believe that this House and this country will deny to faithful servants their due reward.
§ Major-General Sir ROBERT HUTCHISON
I should like to thank my hon. Friend who put down this Motion for choosing a subject which I think I may say is a non-party one. In saying that, I regret the remarks which were made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson). There is no one in this House who has done more for these old soldiers than my hon. and gallant Friend, and I am sorry that he should think that we as a party are trying to put forward, through this Motion, something which we think we as a Government will possibly never have to carry out. I deprecate that, because I should like to see this subject dealt with entirely from a non-party point of view.
Sir J. DAVIDSON
May I say that my object was merely to explain that I felt absolutely hopeless on this matter? That was the position that I was trying to put.
§ Sir R. HUTCHISON
I quite appreciate my hon. and gallant Friend's observation. I hope that he will have more cause for hope. We hope to-day that possibly the Treasury will be softened, and that something will be done for this very deserving class. I welcome the speech of the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. W. J. Brown), because he approached the subject on a line which I think is very practical, and his points ought to have great weight with the Treasury. After all, the improvement in the condition of pre-War pensioners which resulted from the Acts of 1920 and 1924 only went half-way. The percentages by which the pensions were increased, varying from 75 per cent. down to 20 per cent., were not really adequate. I want to emphasise the point which was put by the hon. Member for Deritend (Mr. Longden) in regard to the relative value of pay pre-War and of pay post-War. The basis of pay depends on the cost of 1723 living, and the present index figure of 56 has no relation to the conditions of those who served in the Army, the Navy, the Civil Service and the Royal Irish Constabulary. Therefore, I think that the Treasury might approach this question of the re-adjustment of pensions on a post-War as opposed to a pre-War basis, from the point of view of the value of the pay which the men concerned received. The present basis was fixed and arranged because it was found that the men in the ranks could not carry on on less than the amounts which they receive now, and, therefore, it seems to me that the former pensions ought to be re-adjusted on that basis rather than on the basis of the cost of living figure.
There is another point that I should like to put. We have had cases among pre-War pensioners of men who had disability or wound pensions, and, when they were reconsidered, they were brought up to the post-War basis. But why bring up the wounded or disabled man when the ordinary service man is left far behind? Surely he ought to be treated similarly, and at any rate brought up to the post-War basis. These old servants of the State, no matter in what service they have been, surely deserve from this House a certain amount of care in their old age beyond what we ought to give even to the younger servants, who, after all, can fight for themselves, while these old servants cannot. Therefore, it seems to me that the House of Commons, apart from party, ought to combine, and, as an indication of public opinion in this House, put pressure on the Treasury to re-examine this question and to look into the hardships of these cases. All of us, and especially those who, like myself, have been old servants of the State, get many appeals to try to help these people to get better terms. We all know of these cases. I do not want to put harrowing cases to the House, but everyone of us who has been in touch with these people knows the very hard circumstances in which they live. I am only saying what we all think in all quarters of this House when I say to the Treasury, "Cannot you, in view of the very small sum that is involved, look at this matter with a softened heart? Cannot you examine it to see if you cannot alleviate the ending days of these 1724 servants of the State?" After all, the State ought to be a model employer; it ought to do what it would like other people who employ labour to do; and, surely, we ought as a country to look after these old servants.
There is another point which is not actually involved here, but in regard to which great hardship is created. In the old days a pre-War service man sometimes served for a short time and then transferred to another service—say from the Army into the Civil Service, or from the Navy into the Civil Service. Those movements of service involved inequalities in regard to the amount of service counted in passing from one service to another, and those inequalities ought to be levelled up. I have always maintained that service for the State should as far as possible be put on an equality, with equal rewards. I do think that these pre-War men deserve our assistance. After all, to put it on a very low level, they have no political value, and, therefore, we are voicing something which we really feel from our hearts. I beg the Treasury to look into this matter and to set up some sort of non-party inquiry to see whether the difficulties of these old men to-day, owing to the extremely heavy cost of living, cannot be in some way alleviated.
I should like to support this Motion, because it asks that the Government shall really consider this case and do these men a simple act of justice. I do not want to attack the Government do not want to create hostility; I would rather re-echo the sentiments of the hon. and gallant Member for Montrose (Sir R. Hutchison), who has appealed to the Government to reexamine this question and see if they cannot give some help. May I give an instance from my own experience, namely, that of a postman who has served his country for 40 years—who has given 40 years' good and faithful service before he gets his pension? The method of calculating the pension is to give one-eightieth only for each year of approved service, and the maximum pension can only be forty-eightieths, or one-half, of the man's annual payment. For 40 years' good and faithful service he gets a pension of £40. Under the present scheme that pension can be increased to £68, a 1725 sum which would not, in this House of Commons, buy a modest dinner for any Member while the House was sitting.
Reference has been made to the cost-of-living figures, and it has been truly stated that the rise in the cost of living presses very harshly on those with a low income. These men have had to suffer an increase of their rent, and the landlord takes no account of their pension, he takes no account of the fact that they are not active and cannot agitate and use pressure to got their income increased. Where these men have had to go into post-War houses, or to give up their own houses and take apartments, I know of cases where nearly half the pension goes in rent, and these men would he glad if the Government would do something so that they might have milk every day.
I will take it as common ground that there is not a right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench who has not as much sympathy for these men as I and others have. I have given cases of men who have done 40 years' service—and a man is exceedingly lucky who can do 40 years' service—in the Post Office. The aggregate service is nearer 20 years, and you have thousands of ex-service men coming to the Post Office late in their lives who have served the Government for years in other capacities. That service was not allowed to count for pension, and that aggravates this burden. In those cases something ought to be done.
Look at it from the point of view of one of these men. Here is the Post Office with a profit of £10,000,000 this year, and here is a pensioner who cannot afford milk every day. Surely the Government do not need anything more in support of this as a case for examination. The very fact that these Pensions (Increase) Acts have been passed admits that there is a case. Why were they passed? Because the House knew that these men were suffering an injustice. An hon. Member opposite mentioned the date, 1st April, 1919. My understanding of the Pensions (Increase) Acts is that they apply to men who were pensioned before 4th August, 1914. There may, of course, be modifications of which I am not aware at the moment, and I should like the Financial Secretary to deal with that point. 1726 Let me come to the question of men who are denied any increase because they are under the age of 60. I cannot find any reason for denying a man equitable treatment because he is under the age of 60. The Financial Secretary said on Tuesday last that it is believed that the number did not exceed 1,000. Cannot something be done for that 1,000? The others are dead. Do not let us leave these 1,000 men to pass away. I also object to taking into account the private means of the civil servant when you come to this question of estimating his pension, which is based on service. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman opposite admit that a pension is deferred pay. I wish the parties who have formed the Governments of the last 30 years had always appreciated that principle. Private means ought not to come in. It is also unfair to impose a limit and say that a man who is getting a few pounds more than another should not enjoy this increase.
With regard to cost, I think the House might come back to the point made by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha). He said that in 1920 we had more than 100,000 persons. They are now down to 40,000. Take the concrete case of the Civil Service. In 1920 the number was nearly 15,000. It is now down to about 7,500. The others are dead. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924 estimated the cost of removing this means disqualification at £3,000,000. The Financial Secretary said on Tuesday that the cost would be about £1,200,000. There is an opportunity for the Government to go into this question. These men are old, and many of them are living in misery. There is no other word for it. They have nothing to do, and they cannot get work. I have met men who have told me that every day of their life is agony, because they have not even a few coppers. They cannot even go to the pictures. I am not going to assume that right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench have not as much sympathy as I have for these men. I feel that they have, but I hope that they will listen to this appeal. I hope they will appreciate that there are hundreds of thousands of people who will not see these old men deserted in the hour of their need. We intend to pursue this question. I hope the Government, in view of the change in 1727 circumstances since 1924, in view of men who have passed away, in view of the diminishing number, and in view of the urgency of the problem, will say they will look into the question and see if they can help.
§ 6.0 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir WILLIAM ALLEN
This is not the first occasion when I have been present at a debate of this character. I remember very well in 1924 when there was practical unanimity on this subject. So unanimous indeed was the opinion on all sides of the House that the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury had to withdraw a Money Resolution and bring in an amending one. The right hon. Gentleman in charge tonight might very well follow his predecessor's example, although there is not a Money Resolution at the moment. It has not got to such a stage of success as that. I was very much surprised to hear my hon. and gallant Friend above the Gangway cast aspersions on the Labour party for not supporting the Motion in 1923. So far as I recollect, there was a Motion somewhat similar to this proposed by a Labour representative and seconded by a Labour representative, and in all parts of the House there was a unanimous opinion that something ought to he done for these pre-War pensioners. The Government in power in those days promised to do something, but their term of office was cut short, and the Labour Government then came into power. Again, representations were made to the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury. The same type of debate took place on a Money Resolution, and the unanimity of the House, as I say, compelled the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to withdraw the Resolution and amend it. In doing so, he used these words:I quite agree with hon. Members in not seeking to penalise thrift in any shape or form, but I would remind the House that, having regard to the fact that we have provided rather more than half a million, we thought it best to take the first step by increasing the percentage, and the other changes must form the subject of separate legislation if at any time the Government find themselves able to embark of that course."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1924; col. 1874, Vol. 173.]It came on later and finally the Act was passed. This Motion proposes to rectify the defects of the Acts of 1920 and 1924. 1728 It may have been considered in those days a large sum to expend on these pensioners, but after all, what was it? I remember very well that after the debate I said I was very sorry that I had to go home to Ireland and tell of the miserable pittance that the Government thought fit to give them. As far as I recollect, there were about 100,000 cases, and the annual increase amounted to £300,000—the magnificent sum of £3 per pensioner. Why is it that the means of the pre-War pensioners are taken into consideration in calculating their pensions while those of post-War pensioners are not? This is what happens. The old Royal Irish Constabulary man day and night served his King and his country faithfully and well. Perhaps his pension is £48 a year, and he has to answer almost an inquisition every year in order to satisfy the authorities as to his private means, while the post-War pensioner gets £156 per annum and is never asked a question. Surely, this is not a matter upon which we should have to plead with the Treasury. If we can do nothing else, let us at least wipe out the disgrace of asking these pre-War pensioners with their miserable pittance to furnish an account of their private means. After all, to what can these private means amount? What was their salary before the War? How could they save anything? It cannot have been very much. I hope that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will at least wipe out the demand which is made of these pre-War pensioners to submit details of their means annually to those who are in authority. I have said that there was practical unanimity in the debates of 1923 and 1924, and here we have another debate with a similar appeal to the Treasury. I do not believe that there will be a Member of the House who will rise in his place to oppose this proposal on the ground of equity. In fact, I am surprised that the representative of the Treasury on the Front Bench has not got up in his place and said, "We admit it all; we are going to give you all you want." Why should Member after Member have to stand here appealing for this simple justice? Every Member of the House of Commons is satisfied that it is a matter of simple justice.
§ Mr. W. B. TAYLOR
Bid the hon. and gallant Gentleman ask anything about this question in the live years previous to the Labour Government taking office?
Sir W. ALLEN
I can only recollect that when the Labour party brought forward a Resolution in 1923, the Government of that time were prepared to introduce a Measure in order to rectify all these difficulties. But that Government had not a lease of power, for very shortly afterwards the Members on the opposite side of the House had to transfer their allegiance to this side of the House and hon. Members opposite came into power. Again, in 1924, they had an opportunity, and I want to give them credit for taking it. If the Tory Government, as it is commonly called, had remained in power, I believe that these grievances would have been redressed, though, of course, I do not know to what extent. At any rate, we are all satisfied that these difficulties ought to be remedied. The appeal, I am sure, will not be in vain. I hope that when the representative of the Treasury speaks to-night he will be able to state that they are going to give something to these men during the last few years of their lives which will make them look back upon their service, and realise that, after all, they have been rewarded, even if only to a small extent. I appeal to the hon. Gentleman to-night to give us that assurance, so that when I go back to Ireland at the end of the week I shall he able to look old pensioners in the face and say to them that at last the Government have been so generous as to admit their liability.
§ Mr. ROSBOTHAM
An hon. and gallant Member said that we politicians were apt to forget, but I do not think that we ought to forget seeing that we represent the people of the country. It is for us to see that justice is done. We in Great Britain pride ourselves upon being a people who wish to do justice and to see that justice and equity are carried out on all occasions. There is a great misfortune with regard to dates which apply in a very unfair way to the old pensioners. The dates ought to be revised or readjusted. I rise chiefly to put in a very strong plea in regard to the point to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen) 1730 referred, namely, the filling in of an annual form in regard to means. Friends of mine have complained to me about it and are very nervous about filling up this complicated form. If we are only able to get a promise to-day from the Treasury Bench that the forms will be dispensed with, we shall have made a great step forward, and done something to relieve the anxiety of these old pensioners.
These pensioners are getting on in years and it is for Members of this House to see that something is done for their comfort and for their advantage. I do not consider that this is one of the subjects in regard to which we should reckon up the sums of money involved. This is not the question at all. There is a principle involved of bringing comfort to these people in the latter days of their lives. Before I thought of becoming a Member of Parliament, it was my privilege to speak to some of these pensioners, and I always thought that it was a great injustice. Now that I have been elected a Member of Parliament, I feel that I should be neglecting my duty if I did not rise in my place for a minute or two and express my sympathy with these old pensioners. I trust that the Treasury will give full consideration to every point which has been raised this afternoon, and will, if possible, accede to the request so clearly put forward on the other side of the House. I make an earnest appeal to the Treasury to do away with the inquisition of this annual form. I wish to support the Motion.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I am sure that every Member in the House regrets that these occasions, when we are able to express, on a Motion which is before the House, what is in our hearts, are so few during the course of our Parliamentary life. Let us at least make the most of this occasion. As a rule, the opportunities for back bench Members not to give a silent vote on some questions are of necessity very few, but here is an occasion when from all sides of the House the same expression of opinion has been given, that it is a matter of bare justice. Economy has been mentioned by more than one hon. Member. Economy is probably the most important thing in the country to-day, but I do not believe that there is a single voter throughout the country who will ask for economy at the 1731 expense of the bare justice which should be meted out to this old class of servant of the State. The fact is, that it is not a question of a future liability; it is a question of a past liability. I submit, therefore, that the question of economy does not come in. Because we have not honoured the bond in the past, it is no reason why we should not honour the bond, and honour this liability, now that we have an opportunity to do so.
I do not think that much can be added to the speeches which have been made by the hon. Member who moved the Motion and by the hon. Member who seconded the Motion, but they made out a case which, I submit, is unanswerable. I hope that when the Financial Secretary to the Treasury comes to reply for the Government, he will tell us that he is prepared to give us the whole of what we are asking. At any rate, if he cannot give us the whole of what we are asking, surely he will be able to tell us that the most unfair inquisition into the means of these old men should be removed. Why should they be treated in a different way from any other class of pensioner since the War? Why should this inquisition be made into their private affairs, and, in many cases, pitiable private affairs It is not made into the private affairs of any other class of pensioners with whom we have had to deal.
The hon. Gentleman who moved this Motion made reference to the question of a pensioner who might, perhaps, have invested his money in a small house. I would like to point out that if a pensioner has invested his savings in some small investment bringing in an income and if his income from all sources does not exceed a certain amount, he is entitled to get a pension, and he gets it, but supposing he has invested the money which he has saved, not in some investment stock or shares, but in a house, then, if the assessable value of his house has gone up, through no fault of his own, not only does he probably have to pay more in rates—he has no more coming in, although his house appears to be more valuable—but it may be that his pension may be cut down, or taken away from him. Surely the House of Commons cannot be deaf to the appeal which we are making when a case like this is put before 1732 them. Such a monstrous injustice, I am sure, would not be tolerated by the House of Commons for one moment.
I am glad that several speakers have made reference to the fact that pension is deferred pay. I heard a question asked recently from the opposite side of the House which was rather on the lines that because a man received a pension he was not really entitled to it. A man who received a pension for service performed either in the Army or in the Navy is only getting back money which he has, in effect, saved during his period of service. He is not getting a charitable dole. He is getting something towards which he contributed, and something to which he is entitled by reason of the fact that he had a smaller income during the time he was serving. Therefore, if a man is to be made less well off because in the past he has been thrifty, and if he is to be compared with another man who has performed precisely the same service to the State and who, as the hon. and gallant Member pointed out, simply by reason of the fact that a difference in time occurred, is better off than he is, I say that it is not only absurd but a thorough injustice that such a thing should be allowed to continue for one moment.
The question has been raised of many of these pre-War pensioners who joined the Forces, and who, therefore, by reason of their joining the Forces, were put upon a different scale. I know of cases of pre-War pensioners who endeavoured to join the Forces, but who, either by reason of infirmity or from one cause or another, were not able to do so, and although they were perfectly ready to serve the State again during the Great War, they were not allowed to do so and for that reason, although they were willing, they have to be worse off than men who were taken. I cannot believe that the Government Bench opposite can possibly resist this claim. I do not want to make party capital. Thank God, we are discussing a Motion out of which really no party capital can be made either one way or the other. It is a Motion which is being discussed on its merits on the Floor of the House of Commons, which exists mainly for the purpose of rectifying injustices to those people in the country who help to send us here to do their work. It is not a question of party either one way or the 1733 other. For once in a way we can at least be a Council of State actuated by one motive only, and that is to remedy an injustice to old servants. I have often heard people plead that some Motion before the House is only a little one. Only last Friday we had suggestions from the benches opposite, "Oh, it is only a little thing; let us put it through." Well, this is only a little thing, a pitiful little thing. They are a wasting group of men; they are bound to get fewer and fewer as the years go by. They have decreased from a large number through death, and you can never remedy the injustice to those who have died since this agitation for justice has been set on foot. Though you cannot do justice to them, you can at least do justice to the remainder of those people who have suffered from this injustice since 1919.
Perhaps the worst thing that has been done by the present Government in this matter is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer refused even to hear a deputation. There was a non-party meeting of Members of this House who interviewed these old pensioners and heard their case. That meeting appointed a non-party deputation representative of all quarters of the House, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer refused either to hear the deputation or consider their case. How can he reconcile that attitude with the letter which he wrote on the 3rd December, 1927, to a citizen of Manchester, a retired civil servant? Referring to the pensions of 1924, he said that they might he regarded as a preliminary step and that that did not exclude further improvements in the future. If those were the views of the Chancenor of the Exchequer, the House is entitled to call upon him to implement what was Obviously in his mind when that letter was written, and what was obviously a promise. I hope that the House will remedy an injustice which has existed far too long, in the interests of an old and a deserving body of men throughout the State who have suffered quite enough, and whose sufferings ought to be ended to-night.
§ Mr. MOSES
I desire to congratulate my colleague in the representation of the City of Plymouth in the double flight that he has made in regard to this claim, a flight in order that he might be able to place these men in a, better position, and the flight of eloquence with which he 1734 supported the claim. We could not but be convinced of the sincerity of my hon. Friend when he moved the Motion. He has been consistent in his support of this claim, and I am delighted as a representative of the same city to support him in this claim for justice. This subject is not new to the louse. We have heard a great deal about what has been done in the past in regard to it. One cannot help noticing the keen anxiety of Members of the Conservative party to support this claim to-day. One wonders what they were doing in regard to it during the five years when they had power and could easily have given justice to these claimants. If they were then so keen as to-day they appear to be, one wonders how it was when they had the power that they did not use it, so that the House to-day would not have been detained discussing this question.
These claims have been recognised through the years, and although the House has done some scant justice, that does not take away from the supreme claim of these old servants of the State. The increases which were given under the Pensions (Increase) Act did something to remedy a grave injustice, but the main objection to the system that was then inaugurated is the inquisition annually put upon these old servants of the State, and the means limit which acts so unjustly. Many of these old servants, in looking forward to their old age, have taken out endowment policies, and I have known cases where the maturing of an endowment policy has put them beyond the limit which makes them entitled to any increase of pension. We recognise that something was done by the Labour Government in 1924, but a great opportunity of remedying the injustice was passed over by the party that had the power to do it. In this claim we are making no appeal to the State for charity. We are making an appeal for justice, on behalf of those who have a perfect right to make it.
The main plea of the Motion is that equal service should bring equal remuneration. We say that those for whom we are making our claim to-clay have rendered service to the State equal to those who have been able to claim larger emoluments. Mention has been made of the fact that this claim does not include only men who served in the Army and the 1735 Navy. It includes those in the Civil Service, the great service of the Post Office, also the industrial workers who are engaged in the industrial establishment of the Admiralty and those workers who were pensioned before the War and who are also subjected to the same inquisition and the same income limit. When we consider that the policemen are linked with the postmen and their widows in this matter, there is not a constituency represented in this House that is not affected by the matter in some degree or another. The great question with which we have to deal is whether justice shall be done to those who, engaged in public service, have had their pensions based on the scales of pay operating prior to the War, or whether they shall be subject to that remuneration which is based upon greater justice.
The scales of pay operating prior to the War in every part of the public service were glaringly inadequate. It was the inadequacy of the remuneration that called for the various commissions. Public -opinion was so strong that the Government of the day had to appoint commissions in order to deal with the scandal of the remuneration in the public service, especially in regard to the Navy and the Army. The inquiry also applied to the police forces of the country. We remember the agitation and the trouble that arose, and the consequent appointment of the Desborough Commission to inquire into the inadequate remuneration and pensions of the police force. These inquiries were based upon the conditions that were then prevailing. It was the inadequate remuneration that was received by those who were then serving that brought out the need for inquiry. The result of the inquiries produced new rates of pay and pensions, but the men who had suffered the indignity of the low rates of pay and had been subject to the hardships in regard to which the inquiries were set up, were shut out of any participation in the improved pensions that were the outcome of the inquiries which had been called for by their conditions. Therefore, we are asking only for justice when we ask that the rates of pay now established shall be the basis of the pensions of those who suffered the conditions which made the inquiries necessary. 1736 The Army and the Navy pensioners have been spoken of to-day. These men served their full period in the service in conditions which the present Navy and Army know nothing about. They suffered under arduous conditions. Almost every day of their service was akin to war service. Those were the days, in Service parlance, of bully beef and biscuits. Those men knew what hardships meant, and yet those men who knew those hardships and were subject to the ill conditions that prevailed, are not allowed to participate in the remuneration which comes to their comrades who serve under less arduous conditions. When we take a pension at its present limit, what are we asking on behalf of these men? The halfpenny a day that was given to the old soldiers and sailors as pension was contemptible for a nation such as we pose to be. Little wonder that our enemies called our army "The Contemptibles," when we treated them so contemptibly. In the pensions that were meted out to them, there was an indication of the nation's measure of the service that was being rendered. A sailor received is. 7d. a day pay and a soldier received 1s. per day, and upon that pay the basis of pension was fixed at one halfpenny per day for every completed year of service. Therefore, a soldier or sailor who had completed 22 years service was entitled to 22 halfpennies per day as remuneration for that service, in the form of deferred pay. These men for whom we claim justice performed identical services to those whose pensions are based upon the higher scale.
As a magistrate of the city of Plymouth, I often have to take declarations from these aged servants of the State. Were it possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to see the signatures on some of these inquisitorial forms, those signatures would be eloquent of the palsied hand and the shaking form of the men who signed the papers, speaking eloquently of their great need. Then there arc the industrial workers. Very few of them are able to render 40 years' service to the State because there is a considerable period that has to be worked in what is called the sphere of the hired worker or the auxiliary worker. Consequently, only a short period can be considered, but were the whole period 1737 considered the pension would be miserably low because the meagre pittance of the industrial worker before the War was only a men, hindrance to entrance to the poor house. In order to get a miserable addition to that pittance these men have to sign an inquisitorial form that their income is below a certain amount. The utmost pension that an industrial worker, a mechanic with 40 years' service, could get to-day would be about £60 per annum, while the pension of the pre-War pensioner, with all the added increases due to the Pensions (Increase) Act would amount to not more than £35 per annum. The industrial worker would receive a pre-War pension of £35 per annum for 40 years' service, if it were possible for him to put in 40 years, whereas the man who occupies the same position to-day and does the same class of work in the service would come out with a pension of £60 per annum. I submit that this indicates that it is necessary to apply justice in these cases.
Take the case of the police force in the city of Plymouth. Prior to the War, the watch committee were responsible for fixing the amount of remuneration; afterwards it became a question for a national inquiry. During the War, no policeman was allowed to leave the service, and. consequently, a number who had reached the age for retirement were not allowed to retire. After the War, a number of them, from the chief superintendent down to the lowest rank of constable, had to go. A number of policemen and officers retired prior to 31st March. We had sonic outstanding cases. There were some officers and policemen who went out on 31st. March, at 12 o'clock midnight. When the Desborough Report came in, we found that 1st April was laid down as the date on which a man should be serving in order to get advantage of this remuneration. The chief superintendent, who had risen from a constable in the ranks, went out on 31st March at 12 o'clock midnight. If he had remained until 12 o'clock noon on 1st April, instead of receiving £183 as pension, he would have been entitled to £383. That is an instance of the injustice. This did not apply only to the superintendent, but to constables who left under exactly the same conditions, some of them with distinguished service in the force. They went out on 3Ist March while those who 1738 remained until April just a week longer in the service received a considerably higher pension.
The maximum pension of an inspector before the War was £2 18s. per week. The maximum pension after 1st. April, 1919, was £4 9s. 9d. The maximum pension of a sergeant was £2 on 31st March, but on 1st April it was £3 15s. A constable on 31st March was entitled to £1 15s. 4d. per week pension, but on 1st April he was entitled to £3 3s. 4(1. It was a very big rise for those who remained until 1st April, but it was a great injustice to those who went out of the service on 31st March of the same year. There is greater injustice still when we consider the position of the widows of police officers who went out prior to 1918 with no pension whatever for their widows. They had joined the great majority, and their widows receive no pension at all. The Desborough award gave to the widows of police officers £30 per annum up to a maximum of £50 according to rent, and £10 for each child. In the case of officers who died prior to April, 1918, their widows have been the subject of charity or the cold administration of the Poor Law, while those who were left widows after 1st September, 1918, are in receipt of £30 pension and £10 for each child. I know two widows, each with three children. One is drawing no pension at all, and the other £60 per annum. I submit that there is a distinct claim for justice being done when you get cases like these.
Then there is another class, to which I should have expected hon. Members opposite would have referred, and that is the widows of seamen who lost their lives in the service of the country under harrowing circumstances and whose widows, under the regulations then in operation, were given what is called a patriotic pension—very patriotic indeed, for it forces them to live on 9s. per week. Widows in receipt of this patriotic pension have to fill up the inquisitorial form, and make a declaration as to their income. The greatest increase which can come to these poor widows who lost their husbands in submarine disasters before the War will bring their pensions up to 15s. 9d. per week. This is not an extravagant claim that we are making to-day. We are not. 1739 asking that there shall be a gift of public money. All we are asking is that there shall be a recognition of what the nation owes to those who have served it in these various spheres. Much has been made of the fact that this is a diminishing quantity. There is a quotation which is probably known to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to this effect:The sea of time is restless and encroaching, and the wave of each receding washes from off the shore some comrade in the battle of life.I apply that to the subject before us. The wave of each receding hour and of each receding year on the sea of time is washing away many of these old servants of the State for whom we are claiming justice to-day. I am not making an appeal to a bogy Chancellor of the Exchequer, the creation of hon. Members opposite, who make him appear as a roaring lion going about seeking whom he may devour. I am not appealing to that kind of Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am appealing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we know, the man with a mind and a heart, quick to feel and to do; and, consequently, I feel that in making this appeal to that Chancellor of the Exchequer I shall not be appealing in vain and that justice will be done to those who have a right to claim it.
The sea of time is no more restless than hon. Members who are waiting to speak on this subject. I regret very much that the hon. Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Mr. Moses) started on a controversial note. Up to now we really have had a rare and refreshing debate for the House of Commons. The hon. Member asked why the Conservative party, when they were in office, did not do something to help these pensioners? May I remind him that this is a private Member's Motion, and also that during the four years that we were in office Members of all parties tried their best to get this Motion before the House of Commons. I do not for a moment want to make the question of pensions a political issue. I never have, and I hope I never shall; and anyone who heard the speeches of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) and the Seconder of this Motion, and the hon. and gallant Member for 1740 Fareham (Sir J. Davidson) will recognise that it has not been discussed on party lines at all.
I do not want to make a speech for my constituency. This is not a constituency matter; it is outside all constituencies. It affects all parties. The hon. and gallant Member for Fareham made, I think, the most non-party speech, because he said that he was disgusted with all parties. Probably the present Government are more pledged than any other previous administration upon this question. I am sorry for them, because I know how hard it is to carry out all their pledges. But I want to tell them to go on. If they accept this Motion, they will he astonished to find how much support they will get in the House. In 1924, when this question was discussed, the right hon. Member for St, George's (Sir L. Worthington-Evans) said that to say that at some time later the old people who would be shut out of the Bill would have their case considered was a mockery of time, as some of them were over 75 and approaching 80 years of age. All parties are involved in this question, and I want to bring the present Government up to time, not from any party point of view.
The tragedy of these old pensioners is that if they had belonged to a trade union, they would not be suffering in this way. Their only crime is that they were loyal to the State. I was going to speak about widows, but the hon. Member for the Drake Division has done so very eloquently. The means test will have to go. Of all the unfair things against these pre-War pensioners, the means test is the most, unfair. I could give the House ease after case in which the old people who are receiving help from their relations have had their pensions reduced. I am really thinking of the pensioners themselves; not of my constituency, and I beg of the Government not only to accent the Motion, but to go right on with it. They have so many pledges that they cannot possifly fulfil them all, but this is a pledge which it is quite possible for them to fulfil. It is not an increasing charge on the country; every year it will get less and less. I wish I could take the Chancellor of the Exchequer into my constituency, indeed into any constituency, and let him see the cases of some of these old pensioners. I believe he 1741 would take his courage in his hands and face this small increased expenditure.
I do not think this ought to be made a party question. There is no greater disservice that we can do to these people than to make this a party question. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham that if we are to do anything more for these old pensioners, we ought to let them know. Every year they are paying into their association, and they have little enough with which to pay. Even if the Government do not do all that we want them to do, we shall go on fighting to the end, because we feel that the House of Commons exists to do justice to minorities as well as to majorities. These people are a small minority, but a loyal one, and their case is a tragic one.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
The Noble Lady who has just spoken referred to the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My right hon. Friend regrets his inability to be present, but he has had to be at the Imperial Conference and in those circumstances he felt that the House would understand and excuse his absence. I am sure that all who, like myself, have listened to the whole of this debate, will agree that the ease for the pre-War pensioner has been stated not only with eloquence but with the moderation for which this House is well known. But though the case has been stated with cogency and force by Members from all parties, I do not think that the actual facts of the situation have been stated by anyone, and therefore I hope that the House will forgive me it quite briefly I state what the facts are.
Broadly, the grievance from which all the pre-War pensioners originally suffered could be expressed in two ways. On the one hand they saw men of somewhat similar status to their own, who had retired later in date, placed in a position different from that which they themselves occupied. On the other hand they felt that when they accepted service under the State there was an understanding that when they retired they would receive a pension of a certain purchasing power. When they retired they found that the pension which they received, though it was in pounds the same as they anticipated, those pounds were not pre-War pounds hut post-War pounds of a very different purchasing power. In 1920, 1742 when the cost of living index stood at 155, the post-War pound was roughly worth about two-fifths of the pre-War pound. Everyone must agree that that was a very real grievance. Let me put it in this way. These men are called upon to pay part of the price which arises from the instability of the standard of value. That instability has resulted in extraordinarily sharp fluctuations in the purchasing power of the pound in the last 15 or 16 years, and in the course of the up and down changes has wrought enormous havoc to the community, not only in the case of people with large means, but in the case of those with small means. Not only that, but it is largely responsible, I believe, for the grave industrial disasters through which we are now passing.
In those circumstances, the pre-War pensioners made a claim for improvement in their position. This claim had, of course, no legal basis, but I Jo not think that a legal basis was ever suggested by the men themselves any more than it has been to-day by the Mover of this Motion. The claim was put forward on compassionate grounds for those persons who had served the State and were the victims of very hard luck due to changing circumstances arising out of the War and particularly the changed value of money. The Coalition Government which was in power in 1920 faced the situation. It divided the pensioners into two categories. First there were those whose means were very small. They included, of course, practically all the rankers of the Army and Navy, and included in the Civil Service all but the men of what were practically the highest, grade. To them it said. "We will make you an ex gratia payment as some compensation for the change in the value of money which has acted to your disadvantage." To others who were above the limit fixed it said, "Your hardships are due to changes in the value of money, and we cannot accept any responsibility for the bad luck that you have suffered."
I am describing what was the view of the Coalition Government in 1920. I imagine that what was in their minds was this—that if the Government accepted responsibility for changes in the value of money as such, it could not possibly stop there, but it must be held responsible for all the people, whatever their means, who suffered similarly 1743 from this result. That would have included professional people and all sorts and conditions of people some with large means and others with tiny means. As time went on, in spite of the fact that the post-War pound began to approximate more nearly to the pre-War pound, this House felt that the treatment accorded to pre-War pensioners was inadequate, and that revision was necessary. By the time the Labour Government came in, in 1924, in spite of the fact that the cost of living index had now fallen to 71, it was decided to make an increase. I am not attempting to make any party capital out of the point. It has been stated by the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson) that the Conservative Government had a Bill to deal with the matter. Whether that was the Bill that was brought in afterwards is another matter.
The Government of 1924 chose the line of increase which it was thought was most urgent, and it expended money on the humbler rather than on the better off. Although there were large numbers of Members in this House who did not accept this as an adequate or final settlement of a serious position, yet for what it was worth the House accepted it on the principle that half a loaf was better than no loaf, and, further, that the half loaf which the Government had chosen to give was the better part of the loaf; in other words that it was better to raise the pensions of the large number of humble pensioners than to carry out a general scheme of increase which would have increased also the pensions of those who were well above the limits fixed. I shall not weary the House with details of that settlement of 1924. It is common knowledge that it gave an increase of 70 per cent. to pensioners whose pension did not exceed £25; 65 per cent. increase to pensioners with pensions from £25 to £50; 50 per cent. increase to those with pensions between £50 and £100; 40 per cent. to those with pensions between £100 and £130, if married; and 30 per cent. increase in the remaining cases. These were all subject to the condition that the total means including the pension did not exceed £200 in the case of a married man or £150 in the case of a single man.
The House accepted that scheme for what it was worth. Now since that time 1744 six years have passed, during five years of which another Government has been in power, and, though I am perfectly aware that Members have put questions during that time, yet there was no concerted action on the part of this House to induce the Government of the day to revise upwards this settlement. I would remind the House that some, though not all, of those years were years of national prosperity. There was one year, at any rate, when a very consider able reduction was made in the taxation of this country, yet there was no concerted action strong enough to have the effect of altering the scale laid down in 1924. Meantime, of course, there has been a further reduction in the cost of living, and, therefore, to that extent—it is only a very slight extent—the need is somewhat reduced from what it was in 1924.
To-day we have this Motion brought forward, and not only has it received support from every section of the House, but it must be generally recognised that the desire to see removed the hardships from which these pre-War pensioners suffer, and the hardships from which other people also suffer, owing to the changes in the value of money and other circumstances arising out of the War, is common to us all. In the-se circumstances, the Government are not going to ask the House to divide against this Motion, but I should not be dealing fairly with the House or with these pre-War pensioners if I did not add this: The House is fully aware of the difficulties of the times through which we are passing, difficulties far greater than any of those which existed in previous years. This House presses on the Government on all occasions the general principle of economy and of resisting increases in expenditure. But, when it comes to particular questions, on any particular demand, the House on all sides and on all occasions presses on the Government the importance of the expenditure. Therefore, I must make it perfectly clear that what I said about the Motion must not be regarded in any sense as a pledge to make provision in next year's Estimates to carry out the changes suggested.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Do the Government propose to take immediate action 1745 with regard to the means test? Almost every speaker dealt with the means test, which is a perfectly iniquitous thing. It is a means of cheating those men, who served the State in all sorts of capacities. Cannot the Government say now that they will abolish the means test straight away?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I do not think the House can allow my hon. Friend to leave the question as it is. We have been told that the Government are perfectly—
§ Colonel GRETTON
I have had some experience, but I have never known an occasion when the House was placed in a position similar to this. The Government find themselves in a difficulty as to what to do with this Motion. They agreed to accept it, and yet, if I understand the hon. Gentleman, speaking on behalf of the Treasury, he told us that, although accepting the Motion, they do not mean to act upon it. We, who are pressing this situation on the Government, are left in the most equivocal and difficult position. The House of Commons is being put in an absurd position. Clearly, if the Government accept this Motion submitted to them by the House, it is their duty to set themselves to the task of fulfilling the command of the House. I press that consideration upon the Treasury Bench as a constitutional issue which cannot be resisted. The hon. Gentleman has not said what he will do. He may not be able to go the whole length of the speeches which have been made to them, but, at any rate, he might bestir himself to make an investigation as to how far the instructions of the House can be implemented by the Government. He has not even gone to that extent. The hon. Gentleman cannot leave the matter where It was left when he sat down.
We are not urging this as a matter of compassion, but of pure and simple justice. These pensions have been revised, but not on a liberal scale. They have been revised parsimoniously, and, after a long period of trial, it has been found that the shoe still pinches very badly and painfully in some of these cases. We are here to urge equity and 1746 justice in this matter. The hon. Gentleman and his Government are pressing on foreign Governments claims on behalf of British citizens on grounds very similar to those which we are now pressing on their consideration. The House of Commons is placing the Foreign Office in a very difficult position in making those claims and in urging justice for British investors if the House of Commons is not able to give justice to their fellow-citizens. I urge the Government to give more attention to what the acceptance of this Resolution involves, and to inform the House what steps they mean to take in order to implement the Motion.
Mr. ERNEST WINTERTON
I have had the privilege of hearing the whole of the 15 speeches delivered in this debate, and I am surprised that, after the tone of all those speeches, every one of which supported this Motion, we should have had a speech from the Front Bench which answers none of the appeals which were made. There were three appeals made to the representative of the Treasury. The first was that there might be, at any rate, a re-examination of the facts; there was no response to that appeal. There was an appeal made that the inquisition, the lengthy list of questions which is submitted to these old men, should be clone away with; there was no response to that appeal, which was made from both sides of the House. There was a further appeal that the means limit, which does so much real injustice, especially to the very poorest recipients of these pensions, should be abolished; there was no response to that. As a new Member of the House of Commons, I do not think we ought to accept just the prepared reply of the Treasury on this matter. All the speeches that have been made are worthless and wasted if they made no impression whatever upon the Front Bench. Someone more cynical than myself in the House of Commons once told me that the best speeches ever made here were those you kept in your pocket and never delivered. It would have been to the advantage of this House and of the country if the speech prepared by my hon. Friend on the Front Bench had not been delivered to-day. Some kind of protest is needed from ordinary rank-and-file Members of the House of Commons against speeches of this kind, which arc apparently prepared for every contingency, 1747 being given to us after the appeals which have been made this afternoon.
The hon. and gallant Member for Montrose (Sir R. Hutchison) said that he hoped the heart of the Treasury would be softened. He was a very great optimist. I tried to recall during a speech of my hon. Friend the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Mr. Moses) some of the scriptural history about the appeals made by Moses to Pharaoh. My recollection is that on many occasions he made an appeal, and that every time Pharaoh hardened his heart. There have been 15 Moses who made an appeal this afternoon, and there has been a hardening of heart as a result of these appeals. I, therefore, suggest that the half loaf which was mentioned should, at any rate, be brought into the picture, that we should have some kind of hope and that, if the half loaf was given in 1924 in response to the keen feeling of the whole of this country on this matter, we are, at any rate, entitled to some crumb of comfort from the Front Bench after a discussion of this kind. It is not treating the Members of the House of Commons quite fairly that, after these appeals from every bench, after the consciousness that, if they went into the Lobby, the Government attitude would be defeated overwhelmingly, we have not got anything more than the mere historical account to which we have been treated by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. It is not with any satisfaction that I make these remarks. I am not anxious to attack so good a friend and colleague as my hon. Friend who sits for West Leicester (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) but I am hound to say, having listened to every one of these speeches, that the House of Commons was entitled to a better response than we have received from the Treasury Bench this afternoon.
§ Sir BASIL PETO
I wish to support the view which has been put before the House by the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton). I do not think that this matter can be left where it has been left by the Financial Secretary. I would remind the House that earlier in the afternoon the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. W. J. Brown) brought out a communication which had been sent by the Government to their supporters indicat- 1748 ing the attitude which they were going to take up in this matter and showing that they had made up their minds upon this question before hearing a word of this debate or knowing the views of Members of the House. It would have been bad enough had they stopped at that; but the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton showed us that their answer was going to be that, at the present cost of living, if they considered this proposal, it would mean a reduction in the case of those in receipt of the smallest pensions. I think that the House would know how to deal with that suggestion, but that is not the real answer which is now given from the Treasury Bench. We are now told that the Government accept the Motion, but that they are not going to implement the will of the House. They do not want the House to divide; therefore, they accept the Motion, but they are going to put it into the pigeon-holes and do nothing about it.
What is the use of telling us that although they have to get through a great deal of public business they are not going to take away the right of Private Members to move Motions of this kind. This debate has lasted since four o'clock until almost half-past seven o'clock. The House is unanimous as to what it wants the Government to do. The Government accept the Motion and then say that the question is to be shelved and nothing whatever is to be done about it. I suggest that such a procedure makes a farce of the proceedings of this House. It is opening up a fresh method of dealing with these questions. A Government may he defeated in the Lobby and bow to the will of the House on a non-party question such as this, but I have never heard of it being open to a Government to say that they accept the will of the House but that they are not going to implement it. I suggest that the matter cannot be left as it is and that the hon. Member for Devon port (Mr. HoreBelisha) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) ought to put it quite clearly to the Government that they mean either to divide the House or else to have the will of the House carried into effect. Let us have one thing or the other.
The Financial Secretary said the grievances of the pre-War pensioners 1749 were of two kinds. One was that other people rendering analogous and similar service to the State at a later date were given more adequate pensions, and the other was that the pound sterling did not now purchase what they had the right to expect it to purchase when these pensions were granted. The whole speech of the Financial Secretary was devoted to the second point. But the Motion does not mention the cost of living. What the Motion asks is that the pensions to which the Acts of 1920 and 1924 apply should he placed on a basis more closely commensurate with the scale of post-War pensions payable for similar service. Therefore, the speech of the Financial Secretary, in reply to all the speeches made earlier in the debate, did not deal with the Motion at all, but with a side-issue which he thought it was convenient to bring in, so as to divert us from the main issue. I do not know what course the Mover and Seconder of the Motion will take, but with all humility I suggest that, if they do not intend to allow the will of the House to be flouted by the Government, they will take the course of dividing.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I wish to add my voice to those who have already protested against the very inadequate answer given by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. Presumably, having sensed the will of the House, the Government have come to the conclusion that the House is unanimously in favour of some action being taken. They do not feel it necessary to have a Division on the subject and the Financial Secretary says in effect, "While agreeing that you are unanimous, yet we do not propose to take any notice of your unanimous opinion." A back-bench Member of this House is not a very important element at any time, but for the Government to take up an attitude of that description is to make us completely ridiculous and futile. I could have understood the hon. Gentleman saying, "We cannot promise to give full effect to the demand of the House." I could have understood him saying, "We cannot promise to give it immediate effect, but the Government will take the Resolution in the spirit in which the House is passing it and will proceed immediately to take the proper steps to give it the fullest possible effect." That would have been 1750 an adequate answer. It would have been an answer in keeping with the dignity of the House, but to say, as the Financial Secretary has said, practically in so many words, "You can pass any Resolution you like, but we shall take no notice of it whatever," is not the way in which this House should be treated, if it is still to continue to regard itself as a serious assembly. I wish to ask you, Mr. Speaker, if it is possible at this stage to move an Amendment to the Motion.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I would prefer to have a satisfactory answer from the Financial Secretary, rather than proceed to that course.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must warn the hon. Member that if he moves an Amendment now there is hardly time left for a sufficient reply to be given to his Amendment. That is my trouble.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words:and, further, that action to carry this Resolution into effect be taken without any unnecessary delay.As I say I would have preferred it, if the Financial Secretary had given an answer but, failing any indication of any intention on the hon. Gentleman's part to rise, I wish to move the Amendment.
§ Dr. BURGIN
I beg to second the Amendment.I do so formally in order that we may yet hear some reply from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is quite in order in moving this Amendment, but I must warn him that it is very likely to defeat the object that he has in view. I hardly think that there will be sufficient time for an answer to be given to the Amendment.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Main Question put, and agreed to.
That, in the opinion of this House, those pensions to which the provisions of the Pensions (Increase) Acts, 1920 and 1924, apply should be placed upon a basis more closely commensurate with the scale of post-War pensions payable for similar service; and further, that pre-War pensioners should be freed from restrictions in regard to age and private means, which do not operate in the case of post-War pensioners and which have the effect of depriving them of the benefits of their past service and thrift.