§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Grimston.]
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Lawson
I desire to call attention to the allowances which are paid to the dependants of large numbers of soldiers. Let me first say that it was not expected that the business to-day would have taken the course that it has taken. We do not consider that justice to the dependants of thousands of soldiers is a subject to be dealt with at the tail-end of a Debate; we consider it to be a first-class issue. But it seems to be the fate of this subject to be always overcast by other matters. Hon. Members will remember that in early October there was a very important Debate in this House on the allowances of soldiers' dependants, including wives and children. There was another Debate in the middle of October, in which there was great concentration on the question of married soldiers. When the Government then promised an inquiry we on this side, at any rate, never dreamed that the conditions under which the dependants Of unmarried soldiers received allowances were going to be altogether overlooked. So it comes about that to-day great masses of people who are parents of soldiers are feeling aggrieved. I think it is true to say that Members have been stormed with demands that the case of such people should receive consideration. It would not be an exaggeration to say that unless this matter receives really serious attention it will create something like a national scandal.
I suppose there are 1000,000 men now in. the Army, and by far the greater number of them are single men. Under the present regulations only a very few of the parents are able to get any allowance at all. There has been great confusion on this matter, inside this House as well as outside. Originally, when men were called up for the Militia in July there was 302 a certain scale of conditions laid down, but in September, when the war broke out and there was a general call to arms, an important change was made in those conditions; and Members of this House did not know that that change had been made. Members could not get hold of the Army Order in which were laid down the conditions under which parents of unmarried soldiers applied for allowances. I found Members wandering around this House asking whether there was any Paper dealing with this matter. On several occasions I took Members to a remote part of this House, where a very small, almost microscopic, copy of the Order was secreted; and when one did get it it was not easy to understand what it was about. At last we got the War Office to issue a White Paper, and it was then discovered that this important change had been made. If Members have the White Paper, Cmd. 6138, they will see a very important paragraph on page 6. This is paragraph 8, which, referring to the previous scheme, says:The above schemes apply generally to soldiers on general mobilisation subject to the following main modifications ….and then it gives them, (a), (b) and (c). For material purposes, the important paragraph is (c), which says that it is a condition that in the case of dependants other than separated wives, unmarried wives and widowed mothers, an allowance is granted only if the dependant, or, in the case of a soldier's mother, her husband, is not capable of self-support. That simply means that, apart from a soldier's mother who is a widow, no soldier's dependant gets an allowance unless the soldier's father is incapable of self-support. The soldier's mother who is a widow may get a pension—I say she may, because she does not always get one; the conditions are very strict there.
Let me first deal with the question of the widow. It is generally assumed that the widow, merely because she has no other means of support, gets an allowance of 20S. 6d., inclusive of the allotment; but that is not always so. As a matter of fact, she can be living under very hard circumstances and still not get the allowance. I have here the case of a widow whose son was 20 when he was called to arms and had been earning up to then 35s. a week. On his twenty-first birthday, a month or two later, he would 303 have been getting £2 17s. He allows his mother 7s. a week and she has an income of 15s. a week compensation because her husband was killed. That makes a total of 22S. a week, and, as it is above the limit laid down, she gets no allowance at all. She has a daughter who is a probationer nurse, but who is getting only something like £1 a month. It is a fact that the widow is limited to 20S. 6d., and if she has two sons in the Army both of whom allow her 7s. and in addition she gets a pension of mos. she will get no allowance.
It is said, I know, that she could go to the Special Grants Committee and get her case considered. The Special Grants Committee does its best. It is wrestling with a large number of cases; I think literally thousands are pouring into it. The committee cannot give adequate consideration to all these cases. In any event, the dependant ought not to be subject to the consideration of such bodies. A dependant ought to have an allowance as a right, and that allowance ought to be based on conditions which shut out the unemployment assistance representative who goes to inquire into the means of the widow. I thought that this House was not too proud of the fact that someone had to go to an unemployed man's home and inquire as to his means. Surely this House can lay down such conditions as make it possible to settle an allowance upon a person without the investigation of the officers who serve the Unemployment Assistance Board, which governs any allowances that may be made. It is a case of applying the taint of Poor Law relief on a national scale to soldiers' dependants.
The conditions that are laid down in respect of the widow need serious consideration. If the son of a widow is in the Army, and, as a result of promotion, increases his allotment of 3s. 6d. to his mother by the addition of another 3s. 6d., is the House aware that it does not mean an increase of 3s. 6d. in the widow's income, as the Army deducts 3s. 6d. as the result of the soldier making that increased contribution. I have the case here of a boy who allotted 3s. 6d. to his mother when he went into the Army in July. In September his pay was increased, and, in accordance with general instructions, he increased his allotment by 3s. 6d., and therefore was allowing 304 his mother 7s. The mother was originally receiving 3s. 6d. in addition to the 3s. 6d. that the boy was allotting to her, but when the boy allotted a further 3s. 6d. the woman's allowance of 3s. 6d. was stopped. This is the answer I received from the War Office:The position is that Private So-and-so joined the Militia last July. His rate of pay was then is. 6d. a day, and of this he agreed to authorise an allotment to his mother of 6d. a day. In addition to this, a dependant's allowance of 3s. 6d. a week was also granted. At the outbreak of war the gross rate of pay was raised to that of the Regular soldier, that is to say, this soldier received 2s. a day. The allotment from his pay was accordingly increased to Is. a day. Under our Regulations, however, any grant of dependant's allowance is made inclusive of the soldier's allotment.In this case, therefore, the total sum being issued to the woman remained at 7s. a week, and the original allowance of 3s. 6d. a week was stopped. That is an instance of the results, not of the evil ways of the War Office, but of the conditions laid down in these Regulations. The people of this country have recognised the forlorn condition of a woman, particularly in a working-class home, who loses her husband. The loss of the husband very often increases and intensifies the burden of the home. If a boy or two are at home they seem somehow or other to feel the loss of their father, and as they grow up they tend to recognise that the day will come when they will have responsibilities. One of the finest things about such homes, with very few exceptions, is the tendency of the boys to recognise their responsibilities to their mother, and indeed to become even more eager to give what they can to her to try and make up for the sacrifices she had made during previous years. When boys who are getting into that position are taken away at a time like this, when they desire to give their mother some little reward for her sacrifice and enable her to enjoy some of the very small things of which she had been deprived in previous years, the House ought to see to it that a decent allowance is made to such women. It will be discovered from any close inquiry into the amounts that have been given to these women that there is not very much for them to rejoice about, and the conditions should be severely overhauled.
I can assure the House that there is a very strong feeling about this matter, 305 and that it is growing and will continue to grow. Is the House aware of the fact that in the case of the loss of the "Royal Oak," which touched the sympathies of this House and the country and of the world, the bulk of the sailors were single men, and that there has been a flood of appeals from parents asking why they could not receive a pension for the loss of their sons? The allotment of 5s. in the case of the sailor has been stopped. These people have not only lost their sons, but they have lost the allotment. When they apply for a pension they are told that there is no pension because there was no allowance. I have particulars of four cases connected with the "Royal Oak," and hon. Members here can produce other cases, and the matter is becoming one of common discussion outside. One reply I received says:I have looked into the case of so-and-so. The general conditions laid down in the Order-in-Council for the grant of pension to parents are that they should be in pecuniary need and wholly or partly incapable of self-support by reason of age or infirmity.I find that neither need nor incapacity can he used in this case. The father, aged 41, is earning his ordinary wages at a colliery, which will be about £2 10s. That is the kind of case that is being brought to our notice. I have four of them relating to those who have lost sons in the "Royal Oak." They have not got anything because there was not an allowance. The allowance practically dictates the giving of a pension. If there is an attack by the Germans at any time involving a great loss of life in anything like the proportion of the losses of the last war, it will be discovered that in cases where there has been no allowance there will be no pension. There is no allowance because there is a need test. There is no pension because the need test applies, and because, in these particular cases, no allowance was made.
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
Possibly in that same letter the hon. Member will find it stated that if the needs of the parent become more difficult they can then apply. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The hon. Member ought to make that clear to the House.
§ Mr. Lawson
I am really surprised that there should be any question about the points that I have put, because it is laid down quite clearly in the letters I have 306 quoted here. It is true that if the need arises in the future an application can be made, but it is also true that for a great number of years we have heard the same about the position of dependants as the result of the last war, and it is very rarely that need is established in cases where a pension was originally refused. There is very great need for overhauling the conditions under which allowances are granted. The old means test has crept into the Service men's conditions. The people of this country were very reluctant to put the means test into operation in its application to the unemployed. Members opposite said that it was something which they were compelled to do by circumstances, but did anyone ever dream that the same principle would be applied in respect to the men who would serve this country? Not only that, but the means test man, as he is called, is so called not because he is a person but because of the kind of work he does. In the bulk of cases there are no allowances laid down at all.
There is another matter which deals with allowances and with the general question of payment. The paymaster is the person who settles these things although I know there is a Special Grants Committee which considers special cases. Generally speaking, however, parents or widows who have sons in the Army receive an answer from the paymaster on a printed buff form. But when the Minister writes a letter he can at least try to write in something like human terms instead of the usual answer being turned out, like an automatic machine, by some clerk in the paymaster's office. In such a case a parent does not know where he is. There is another point; there is no one in their districts to whom they can go in order to try and get into more direct contact with the responsible authority. The average member knows that if they deal with the paymaster's office an answer will be forthcoming quickly because it is a Member of Parliament who is writing. We know, though, how soulless and automatic are the answers we receive. People living in different parts of the country are left with no clear explanation as to what has happened and why they do not get anything. What is worse, they are left with a sense of grievance of a wrong that has been done them and one to which they cannot reply.
307 I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should overhaul the system of granting these allowances. In the last war there was no difficulty about these matters at all. The people who worked with the paymasters were representative public men and women. I know the old age pensions committees were made the bodies that considered these claims. I think there was a flat rate allowance of 5s., but where parents made claims the local committees gave them every consideration and brought the matter near to the home of the person concerned. They could go to a committee and put their case to them. If they had to refuse a claim parents clearly understood the reason for the refusal, and if they had a case parents got a hearing that they understood and an appreciation of their conditions. So I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should consider overhauling this machinery for the payment of allowances so that we can humanise them and bring them back to the doors of the people. In view of the time at our disposal I do not want to take much longer but I want to say this—there is no doubt whatever about the feeling that is growing on this matter. I had a resolution sent to me from one of the miners' lodges. They do not usually deal with these matters but they are asking the county organisation to petition the Government with a view to securing some remedy of pensions to parents whose sons and daughters have been killed during war service, where wholly or partially dependent on their earnings prior to enlistment. There is no doubt that that spirit is growing throughout the country and I say it will become more vocal if there is a break on the Western Front. The Minister should, above all, consider abolishing the system of the means test in settling the allowances to these people.
I do not want to say hard words about some people who are doing quite well. War profiteers exist and they do not have the systematic examination into their means and income that these poor people have. Neither are there such conditions laid down for them. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that if he overhauls these conditions so that people can have something like a fair deal there will be no complaint in the nation. There is no man or woman in any walk of life who 308 would not be happier for the knowledge that justice is being done to those who are serving the nation. The morale of the nation will be better for it, the men who are serving will be more satisfied, and it is very little to ask those who have given so much that decent allowances should be given to those who have so little.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Viant
I rise to press forward the appeal made by the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. My own feeling about this matter is this: that the House has not had an opportunity, hitherto, of facing up to the position with which we are confronted at the present time. We are taking a large number of young men into the Army from various professions, skilled trades and avocations and we ought to take into consideration the fact that we are taking young men whose parents have been put to considerable expense for the purpose of giving them their education and training. As a matter of fact a large number of parents have been involved in considerable debt in order that these young men should be trained. They have to a certain extent staked their financial future upon the possibilities of these young men bringing in or supplementing the income of the home. We have never faced up to this fact and the result is that a large number of parents are not receiving any, or a substantial part of, the income they expected. I have an instance in my mind, arising from a reply I received from the War Office during last week, of a widowed mother with two daughters and a son. The son is in a comparatively good position. He was handing over to the home something in the nature of £2 per week until he was taken into the Army. All he can do now is to make the ordinary allowance. I submitted the case to the War Office and they replied that as the average income to the home worked out at 15s. per week per person they can make no allotment to the widow for her son.
I wonder whether the War Minister can appreciate that sort of thing in a home whose income has been so substantially reduced. This is not an isolated case. One can number such a case by thousands, and I want the right hon. Gentleman to appreciate what this sense of grievance is going to amount to presently among such an enormous number of people in the country. Let us be realistic 309 in the matter and realistic with a sense of humanity. I know of young men who have just completed their apprenticeships —members of my own trade union—whose parents have made considerable monetary sacrifices in order that they should serve their apprenticeship. For six months they had been supplementing the income of the home. All they can allow to the home now is their allotment, and the result in many cases is that parents have been compelled to remove from comparatively good homes into smaller premises and reduce the standard of their home accordingly.
We must appreciate the fact that where no allowance is being made by the War Office to the parents, no pension is payable to the parents on the death of a son. That is very different from what occurred in the last War, and it is no use the Government making the excuse that because pensions in the last war proved to be so costly they are justified in trying to avoid the payment of pensions in this war. I have said before that where it is a case of men serving in the Forces the Government want to run the war cheaply, but when it is a question of profiteers and businesses men can get precisely what they want without any quibbling. That is not going to keep the nation united. Already many people are asking what we are fighting this war for, and all talk about liberty and equality is becoming moonshine to them.
Let us be just and appreciate the fact that if a father or mother loses a son they should be entitled to receive a pension. The least they received on the loss of a son in the last war, and it might be a daughter in this war, was 5s. The old age pensions committee of a local authority functioned in an admirable manner and brought into the whole procedure the human touch. That is what we need in the administration of these allowances. Members of Parliament are able to appreciate the stereotyped letters which we receive from the War Office; we take the cold print at its true value, but if a mother or father who has lost a son or a daughter in the war receives a letter simply stating that there is to be no pension, a letter in cold print, it will create a great deal of pain and anguish. I want to appeal to the Secretary of State to humanise his machinery and above all to see that there 310 shall be an allowance for parents in such circumstances. What is more important is that this House should demand a pension for any parent for the loss of a son or daughter.
§ 6.33 p.m.
I should like to offer my good wishes to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War and to say that I hope he will have a very successful term of office. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) take exception to the investigations for special allowances to men in the serving Forces being carried out by members of the Unemployment Assistance Board. I entirely agree with him. I have already stated my views on this matter in the House, and it is a pleasant thought that a Socialist reform should be led by a Conservative Member from the North of England. I want to raise one or two specific cases. I want to ask the Secretary of State whether he will be kind enough to carry out some investigation with regard to the delay in payments to separated wives who have got court orders against their husbands. I have one or two very distressing cases in my own constituency, and I feel that these cases must represent a great many more over the whole of the country. I will mention only two. Curiously enough, the first case I raised in the last Debate sometime last October, and I want to make it perfectly plain that I am not suggesting that the War Office has not endeavoured to assist me. I am not myself guilty of complacency and lack of action in trying to stimulate Government Departments when I think they are not carrying out their duties very successfully, and I should like to thank the Financial Secretary to the War Office and his staff for the endeavours they have made to get this case settled.
It requires to be said, however, that it is regrettable that neither the War Office nor the Member of Parliament for the constituency, starting as long ago as last October, should not have managed by the middle of January to have got the amount of the court order, about which there is no question, paid to the woman I also think it fair to say that in this case I understand it is not the fault of the paymaster of the unit concerned. But we started this case last October, and here we are in the middle of 311 January and the amount of money due to this woman has not yet been paid. I think the Secretary of State for War might set on foot an inquiry in all regiments to find out what is the position with regard to separated wives. That is one case.
I want to raise another case of a young woman aged 21 who has a baby and also a court order for its maintenance against her husband. There is no allowance. On 5th October she received a letter to say that the allowance would be paid immediately. On 11th November she received a further letter to say that the allowance would be paid in a few days. On 28th November she received a letter to say that early action would be taken. On 28th December she received a letter to say that the case was in the hands of the paymaster, and at the end of the month she again received a letter to say that the paymaster had referred the case to the officer commanding. On the 10th January, when I saw her, she had still not received the amount of the court order due to her. I submit that if these two cases are representative of the position of separated wives it does require thorough investigation on the part of the War Office to ascertain what is the position so that action can be taken in every case. I will not labour the case because I think the facts speak for themselves, and I have made my point clearly.
I come to the next question which I want to raise, the payment of allowances to wives where the soldier for some reason or other has suffered a reduction in rank, carrying with it a reduction in the amount of money payable to the wife. I recognise that where there is promotion the case is not so important, although any delay is regrettable, because the arrears can be made up. Let me say that when I raised this general question with the Financial Secretary he was kind enough to express his sympathy and to agree with my point of view. I promised to give him cases as they came along. I want to take this opportunity of raising a question of principle. Here is a case where a man was reduced in rank because of an offence. There is no question about that. The actual reduction in rank took place on 1st November, but on 27th November, when the wife got her weekly allowance, she got a reduced 312 sum of 3s. That case was taken up by one of the help and information bureaux, and I should like to pay a tribute to the work that has been done by these bun-aux and also by the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association, who have cooperated in a magnificent way and given a great deal of very useful advice to the people they desire to help. Let me read the letter which was sent in answer to this case by the paymaster:You will appreciate that it is impossible to have the allowance book stopped immediately the change takes place, resulting in an over-payment which must be recovered. This is done in such a manner as to cause the least hardship. In this case stoppage was made at once due to the transfer of the issuing office from Leith to Leicester.But the reduction in rank was made on 1st November and the woman's reduction in pay was not made until 27th November. I quite appreciate that one cannot make the machinery operate too quickly, that would be asking too much, but I do suggest that to allow a woman who had no knowledge of her husband's position to go to the Post Office, with all her weekly commitments to meet—and wives of serving men have to budget on their weekly payments—and finds that she is entitled to only 3s., shows a complete lack of understanding of the human side of the question in this matter of allowances. I suggest that in the future the Secretary of State should issue instructions that where reductions in allowances to wives have to be made owing to any alteration in the rank of the husband, the reduction should be made over a period and that there should not he such violent reductions as were involved in this case.
Another question is that of the allowances and pay to men in hospitals. I am really raising this matter because of the case of an airman which has been reported by an association well qualified to offer advice on the matter: that men going into hospitals do not always receive their pay and allowances except when they return to their units. The men do not always understand this, and I received a letter the other day from one of my constituents in the Air Force who is in hospital, who cannot obtain a small amount of money in order to buy a few cigarettes and luxuries which he wanted to have when he was in hospital. I took up the matter with the Air Ministry, and 313 I was told that in this man's case the machinery had not worked successfully. I feel that in a matter of this kind it would be well worth my right hon. Friend's time if he would find out how the machine is operating.
I want now the raise the question of hospitals. This is a difficult subject to discuss because part of the arrangements come under the War Office and part come under the Ministry of Health, and it is not easy for an ordinary individual to find out where the responsibility of the War Office ends and that of the Ministry of Health begins. I have been to a good many of the camp hospitals and medical posts. It is very awkward for the uninitiated to know the whole range of hospital arrangements for the troops, but I think that in the case of small camp hospitals, which I understand are used simply for detaining men who are suffering from minor diseases and who, after a day or two's rest, are able to rejoin their units, it would be worth while if the Minister had an inspection made of the conditions in which these hospitals are set up. The other day I visited one in Northumberland. There were four gallant Red Cross nurses there. On their arrival at the hospital they found that no arrangements had been made with regard to cooking, but one of the nurses did the cooking, in spite of the fact that her contract was for nursing. There was as accommodation a large hall with a very tiny fire, the temperature was very low, and certainly was not fit for the girls to work in.
When the men in bed with laryngitis, tonsilitis, influenza, and similar minor diseases, have to sit up in the icy atmosphere, after having been warm and comfortable in bed, there is the danger that they may catch a fresh chill and perhaps suffer from a major illness. I was able to deal with that matter, with the good will and co-operation of the War Office, and with a few telegrams. However, I suggest to my right hon. Friend, that he must not impose upon the decency and co-operation that he will receive from the Red Cross, the St. John Ambulance and the whole of the nursing services; there is no need for these nurses to suffer unnecessary discomfort. Although, as the House knows, I am no feminist, I suggest it would be a good thing if the War Office would arrange for a woman who knows 314 something about hospitals and comfort to visit these camp hospitals and see what can be done to improve them.
I gathered also that there was some delay in providing the equipment that was necessary. Probably the War Office's idea of equipment and my idea of equipment differ widely, but there is no reason why there should not be, in these hospitals, an adequate supply of bed linen, water bottles, pillows, and so on. I believe the War Office desire that there should be an adequate supply of these things. It is merely a question of organisation, and a question of getting the cooperation of people who could go round and see in what sort of conditions of comfort the hospitals were being run, and forward their opinions to the right quarters in order that the necessary steps could be taken. I am certain that in time all these things will work out satisfactorily.
I want now to pay some attention to the new system of providing large hospitals which are to house both civilians and men from the Services. In Northumberland, the other day, I visited one of the new hospitals which are, I understand, under the Ministry of Health. I was received with open arms by the staff, because they said that they would be able to tell me something about the position. I went round the wards. The beds had been supplied by the Ministry of Health. After they had been supplied and men were in them, a circular had come from the Ministry stating that in no circumstances were any patients to be moved on beds, because if that were done the beds would collapse. There was an instruction from the Ministry that every bed was to be strengthened by the addition of a clamp. I was told that in one hospital 30 beds collapsed, and that the Ministry of Health then sent out a circular. There are occasions, I suggest, when women know more than men, and if a hospital bed has to be designed, I think it would he a good thing if a woman were brought in to see whether the bed is suitable or not. After ma king inquiries, I find that the Government have ordered 100,000 or 150,000 of these beds, and that it was only when the beds were sent out to the hospitals that it was found they were not strong enough to hold the patients. Moreover, the legs of the beds were rough and little castors had to be 315 fitted so that they would not tear the floors of the hospitals to pieces.
There is another matter which I want to raise. Although I am not an expert on it, I try to be a practical individual, with as much common sense as it is possible for a politician to have. On going round this hospital, I was taken into the medicine storage cupboards, and the doctor told me that there was not nearly enough medicine available. I know there are plenty of medical stores available in the country, and probably this matter has nothing to do with the War Office, as the hospital is run by the Ministry of Health. The fact is that there was not sufficient medicine in the hospital for the troops there. My own opinion is that the Ministry of Health took the view that the hospital accommodated other patients than soldiers, and that if medicine was wanted, it could be obtained from the civilian store. The fact remains, however, that there was not sufficient medicine for the patients, and I suggest that that kind of administration ought to be looked into and that in all circumstances there ought to be available an adequate supply of medicine.
Another suggestion that I want to make has reference to the difficulty which is experienced by these hospitals in getting anything in writing. The medical staff at the hospital to which I have referred complained that whenever they asked what was to happen if there should be an epidemic and if they really needed the medical appliances, they were told by the official concerned, "That is all right; you will just get them." When the doctor wisely asked whether that could be put in writing, the answer was, "Oh, never mind about that; it is quite all right." I suggest that in order to make easier the relations between the officers of the Ministry and the officers responsible for the hospital administration, such things ought to be put in writing, and that there ought to be no difficulty in obtaining them in writing. The administration would then be much more satisfactory and much easier.
There are some hon. Members who think that Members of Parliament should discuss only big matters of principle, and that one should never raise small points. I do not take that view. If we are to make the democratic system a success and 316 show the world that it is a success, we must have the support of every man and woman in the country, and in order to obtain that support the democratic system must mean something to these people. We must be able to point out to them the advantages of democracy as compared with a totalitarian system, because people are very apt to say, "Of course, if there were a dictator, this thing would be put right immediately," without for a moment appreciating that none of the complaints would ever see the light of day under a dictatorship. But one cannot go on explaining that for ever. I am opposed to the idea of raising points in the House in order to obtain political popularity; I do not believe that is consistent with the dignity of the House or with the maintenance of democracy; but where there are legitimate grievances, if one can say to a man or woman, however small may be their position in life, that they have a legitimate grievance against the administration of the country by the responsible government of the day, and that that grievance shall be aired in Parliament, then they see that the democratic system does work, and that it means something to them very directly. I believe that is a very important spirit to engender in the minds of our people. Therefore, I make no apology for having raised the points which I have, and I hope that before long my right hon. Friend will have an opportunity of smoothing out the difficulties, to the benefit of all concerned.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
There are one or two points that I would like to put to the Secretary of State for War. I do not intend to go into the general issues raised by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant) about dependants' allowances. I take the same view as they do, and I feel very strongly that there should be an inquiry into the position. I have never been able to understand why you should penalise people when they happen to have a son serving in the Forces and when they themselves possess a few extra shillings. I cannot understand the philosophy which causes anybody to penalise such people. There has been great agitation in the country recently about Government waste, and indeed, the Government have bowed before that campaign and have 317 set up some kind of committee to supervise expenditure. I only wish the Government would immediately set up a committee to go into the question of pensions. I wish they would take the same interest in this as they are alleged to be taking in wages, because I feel that there are many flaws in the administration. I am not capable of judging of the efficiency of the War Office as a war machine, but I question whether they are the machine to pay allowances to the dependants of these men.
I wish, first, to raise this issue of payments to parents from an angle other than that of the dependence. In each case where a man has a son serving in the Army, unless the father is certified as being totally unfit for work—not merely sick for the time being, or for a period of six months, or anything of that kind, but definitely and permanently disabled —or else has reached the age of 65, no allowance can be paid to him. The father may have been unemployed for years. The authorities may have said to him in broad general terms, "You are practically unemployable, and we cannot find you a niche in society." That does not matter. Not a penny piece is paid to him. The son may have been the main contributor to the household. The father may have had very little work at all and may have had to work for a comparatively miserable wage. I have a relation now working in a Government Department, and his total wage is only £2 7s. a week, from which he has to pay 5s. in travelling expenses. That leaves him with an income of £2 2S. a week, out of which he has to keep children. In the case of such a man nothing could be paid, because he is not 65 years of age and is not permanently unfit for work. I say that regulation is entirely wrong.
I have also a case of a boy who was killed in the "Courageous." When he was alive that boy made a contribution of roughly 45s. a week to his parents' home. His wages ran to £3 3s. a week. He did not hand in all his wages, but kept about £1 a week for himself as most boys do. He did not lie about it. His wages were known to be £3 3s. and he paid 45s. a week into the household. His father earns only 34s. a week as a watchman, and he is not 65 years of age and is not permanently unfit. In that case no pension will he paid either 318 to the mother or to the father. I think that is terrible, and, as the hon. Member for West Willesden has pointed out, it is entirely different from what was done in the last war. Then there were two classes of pensions. There was the needs pension and what we called dependants' pensions. I say frankly that a pension should be granted to the parents in a case like that, based not merely on the boy's earning power, but on his future earning capacity if he had lived, which is equally important.
Further, I would say that the treatment of soldiers' wives is disgraceful. I have written to the Financial Secretary to the War Office on this matter. I think what is being done is in defiance of a deliberate statement made in this House by the Minister of Labour. Take the case of the woman whose husband is serving in the Army. For weeks or even months no allowance is paid from the Army. Under the law she applies to the Unemployment Assistance Board. May I say in passing that it is a terrible criticism of the inadequacy of the soldiers' allowances, that the Unemployment Assistance Board actually pays more to the woman than the allowance which she afterwards receives when her husband comes on to the strength of his regiment? With the means test and all the skill devoted to it, and with all the investigation that is carried out, the Unemployment Assistance Board still pay more on the ground of need than you pay to the soldier's wife. It is, I repeat, a terrible criticism of the system.
Then what happens? For three months perhaps—I have one case in which the period was 15 weeks—no allowance is paid to the woman towards the amount which she has received from the Unemployment Assistance Board. At last one day she gets a book of cheques or vouchers, something like postal orders, for the sum which is due—I think 35s. a week. But the first 15 vouchers or cheques are torn in half. No explanation is offered. No letter is sent. The book is just flung at her in that way. Why, you would not treat a dog in such a fashion. It is not fair. Remember that these women are our people just as much as any other section of the community. They are human. Last night I approached the Financial Secretary to the War Office, about this matter and he was. 319 as always, very courteous. I said to him then as I say now that this procedure is in defiance of the statement made in this House by the Minister of Labour. I looked up that statement in the time at my disposal which is limited because I had been engaged in trade negotiations for most of the day. I found that in answer to a question from a Labour Member, the Minister of Labour said it was not the practice for the Unemployment Assistance Board to recover allowances which had been paid. That was a definite statement and if the Financial Secretary to the War Office challenges me on it, I will look it up again, and give him the quotation. The statement was made quite recently and will be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The point was raised by a Welsh Member on this side and the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths), with his usual quick. wit, also intervened on that occasion.
I ask the Secretary of State: What power has he to give this money to the Unemployment Assistance Board? By what right is it done? Where is the authority? The War Office has no right to act illegally and unconstitutionally in the case of a man who is away in the Army and whose wife is poor. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me what law allows him to pay this money over to another body? I think that in Scotland' it is illegal. We passed an Act dealing with poor law in Scotland in which it was provided that once money had been paid out, where need was proved at the time, it was illegal to start an action to recover that money. It is true that in connection with workmen's compensation that provision was modified, but outside that, I contend there is no right to recover this money. What is being done at present is a shocking thing. Then, how do you know that the amount is correct? When the Unemployment Assistance Board say they have paid out a certain sum, how do you know whether that is right or not? Surely the woman who received the money has some rights in the matter. I know of a case in which you had to refund a women £2 because you had kept back £2 too much and I suppose if I had not raised the case, the money would not have been refunded. But the woman is never asked and nobody audits the account. If a counter-claim were made 320 against me for 15 weeks back money, I would insist on having an account rendered and a full statement of facts, but in this case there is nothing of the kind. I say such treatment of these people is shocking and indefensible and I am certain that if tested by an ordinary citizen in the Scottish courts, it would also be found to be illegal.
I want to raise another issue in connection with separated women, where you have the husband and wife separated for good or ill, and where they have chosen to lead their lives apart. I would not be their critic, but they have done it. When the son joins up his mother does not get a penny, but when he was in work he kept her. Because the father of the son is under 65, and is fit for work, the mother does not get a penny. Surely some arrangement could be made in such cases.
I want to raise a further question with regard to the illegitimate child. If a man wants to marry a woman who has an illegitimate child, that is his business and nobody else's. If he chooses to marry some woman—I do not take the view that the woman who has had an illegitimate child is a bad woman—I do not think that he has done anything wrong. In many ways men who do that are taking up an obligation that many would not like to have. He takes over the duties of keeping not only the wife, but the child, and the illegitimate child of this other man becomes his charge. If in our ordinary civil life that child was neglected, the mother could be imprisoned, but I am not sure about the position of the father. What happens is that the father keeps the child, and after a period of time he can apply for an order for adoption, but perhaps he does not do it, and he is in the Army. You refuse to pay for the child, although the Employment Exchange would pay for it if it is proved that the child has been maintained by him and no one else. Why will you not give it to him?
I want to raise the question of a man who has committed an offence in the Army such as getting drunk. I still think drinking goes on to a great extent in the Army, although not to the same degree as before; but occasionally soldiers do wrong things and they get gaoled. When they are gaoled the wages stop, and the woman's means are stopped to the extent of his allowance. I am informed that no other assistance can be obtained. The 321 Unemployment Assistance Board or the Poor Law cannot assist in spite of the fact that the allowance has been cut. I would say to the Secretary of State for War that he ought to allow that proportion of the husband's allowance to go to the mother and the children untouched. At least the children should not be allowed to suffer for their father's faults. The children we are all agreed should be lifted above the battle.
I see the Minister of Pensions in his seat, and I should like to mention the Cautley Committee which is appointed to deal with extra grants. If ever there was a hard-faced miserable committee, it is this committee; that is my experience of it. I have had cases where the Committee have refused where Poor Law authorities and the Unemployment Assistance Board would have given extra money. I would ask whether the hon. Gentleman could not look again at this body and see whether something more generous cannot be established. Frankly, I do not think they are meeting the case at the present time. The Secretary of State for War ought at once to consider and review all the allowances that have been paid. He should consider increases of the women's and children's allowances. I hope that in addition to his work as Secretary of State for War he will remember that he has also a terrible human task to do, so that in the years to come, possibly after the battles are forgotten, the work that he did for the women and children may live longer than some of the great battles.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Barr
This subject has been so impressively presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), who opened the discussion, and those who have succeeded him that it almost needed some apology for intervention in this House. If I needed authority or reason for intervening, I might say that ever since the war broke out on every Friday I sit for three hours in my own constituency to meet dependants who have grievances and difficulties in regard to their allowances. In that way I have got to know what are their difficulties and, with the help of the Minister and of the letters I have received, the qualifications for an Army allowance. I am bound to say that as I read and study these regulations they seem to me to be designed rather to keep dependants out of the allowances than to facilitate their secur- 322 ing them. There are seven main regulations and I will state what they are in the terms of the Government. The terms of the regulations make it difficult after the allotment to obtain also Army allowances.
The first Regulation deals with cases of dependants where the average income of the household exceeds the qualifying amount under the regulations. Regulations 3 and 4 of Army Form 1700/I amount to this, that after making allowance for rent and rates there should be per head of the family an income of no more than 15s. That is, as my hon. Friend who introduced the discussion said, a strong form of the means test. The second of the regulations on which a dependant may be ruled out is that the soldier's qualifying allotment exceeds the amount of the award. If he gives a generous allotment, the result is that there is no need for an Army allowance. My hon. Friend gave an instance of an additional allotment of 3s. 6d. which obliterated the contribution to that extent of the Army. In that case the father of the man was unemployed. The third Regulation is most important. I have known a large number who have been ruled out of the allowance under it. It is that the contribution to the dependant by the soldier prior to enlistment was under the prescribed minimum laid down in the Regulations. It is laid down that he must have contributed a substantial amount. Take the case of a lad who was earning 20S. a week. It is argued that of that amount it is reasonable to suppose that he gave 16s. to the home. Then they say the dependant has no longer to keep the lad, and, therefore, 7s. comes off and 9s. is left. The allotment is 7s., and there is no award made in that case. That affects a large number. Does it not occur to the Minister that if that lad had been left for six months or a year, he would have been earning 25s. or 30s., but because of the temporary fact that he did not exceed 20s. at the time of his enlistment he is ruled out from an Army allowance?
The fourth of these regulations which has been fatal to a claim is that the dependant must be over the qualifying age, 60 in the case of a woman, and 65 in the case of a man, or be physically incapable of self-support by reason of infirmity or of age. Regulation five relates to what has been mentioned in connection with some of the other rules 323 and says that the deficiency of income could be met by an allotment from the soldier's pay if he desired to make it. The sixth is important and fair in itself. It is that any Army allowance is dependent upon the soldier making an allotment. I have seen a letter from a soldier in which he writes to his mother that he is not making any allotment. He made the mistake that by doing that, whatever his intention, he was not helping his mother and was hindering her from getting an Army allowance. The Seventh Regulation is that only one dependant can get an Army allowance in this way, so that if a mother has two sons serving, the allotment could be given in each case, but no Army allowance. I would like to confirm what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) about the scale of public assistance sometimes exceeding that which might be got under an Army allowance. Only last Friday the manager of the Unemployment Assistance Board and I advised a woman that she should not put in a pink form because she might lose 3s. or 4s. as the award might be for 4s., whereas she was now receiving 6s. from the Unemployment Assistance Board in addition to what she had from other sources.
That brings me to the subject of pensions so far as it is related to the subject that we are discussing. I wish to pay a tribute to the Minister of Pensions for his great courtesy to me in explaining in detail the principle on which these are operated and in putting it down in full form so that I might know the procedure and the regulations. I gather that until the formation of the Ministry of Pensions in the last war there was a system not unlike that which obtains now in some respects. One of the conditions was that pensions were granted to parents who had been eligible for separation allowance. With the setting up of the Ministry of Pensions in 1917, and the issue of the first Royal Warrant, there came in a new order and, in particular, the flat-rate pension. This flat-rate pension at the rate of 5s. a week was granted irrespective of pre-war dependence, age, infirmity, or pecuniary need. It was a condition, of course, that the lad must have been under 26 years of age at the outbreak of war or the date of joining the Colours. I wish to say in a personal note that I am 324 familiar with this pension because to this day my wife draws a pension at the flat rate of 5s. for the son we lost in the War. It was not given because of any need of relief but because there was such a flat rate. The lad was a student. He was bringing nothing into the home, and yet that rate was given.
There came a Select Committee on Pensions, 1919–1921, and in their report they set the pension on the basis of need. The Government of the day accepted that position, and the pensions became, as it were, needs pensions, and an announcement was made that other pensions would cease after 31st March, 1922. The present Royal Warrant and other authorities have accepted that principle, and it is a needs pension, one not given to all but only to those who can prove their need. There is one improvement on the old conditions, namely, that it is no longer necessary to prove that the recipient would have been eligible for a separation allowance. This also may be said for the present mode of operation, that if we are not giving it to all there may be more in hand to give to the more needy. I wish to point out that many dependants of the young men who are falling are getting nothing at all. I submitted to the Ministry the case of the first lad from the Burgh of Airdrie who fell. I am not sure of his age, but he would be about 19. He was an aircraft-man in the Royal Air Force. A suitable tribute to him was paid by the local paper the "Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser." He was referred to as "An Airdrie Hero," and every possible honour was done to his name in the circumstances in which he had given his life. But his dependants received no pension and this was the reason for it given by the Minister of Pensions:A pension may be granted only if, among other conditions, the dependants are in pecuniary need and wholly or partly incapable of self-support by reason of infirmity. There is no provision for the grant of a gratuity or lump sum. The forms of application disclose that the father of the deceased soldier is in employment at a wage of £2 10s. a week.That is not a very large wage, and the father and mother of that young hero, who was so prominent in the public eye, get no pension at all. This consolation, however, was held out by the Minister:Should he (the father), however, later become incapacitated by permanent or prolonged infirmity I should be ready to have the case looked into afresh.325 But suppose that 10 years go by and then incapacity arises. We have long known the difficulty of reviving an old case and getting a proper settlement later. I think I am fair in saying that I know what is the argument of the Government behind all this change. They say that at the beginning of the last war we were building, as it were, from the foundation. In this war we are beginning with a big load of debt and responsibility, and therefore we must economise. I think that pretty fairly sets forth their position. I say, with others, "Why introduce the means test here? Why spread it into this Department?" If I may say so without disrespect, I think the Government only prove that they have the means test on the brain and must apply it all round, though, in fact, they do not apply it everywhere. They did not apply it to tramp shipping, or to the landlords of Scotland in connection with the reconditioning of property. They say that we must economise, but when we think of how much lavish and wasteful expenditure there is in other directions we ask why they should economise upon the parents of these lads whom they are compelling to lay down their lives for their country. Unless some sweeping changes are made in these Regulations, there will be great and widespread disappointment in the country.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie
I hope that as a result of this Debate the Government will revise the machinery dealing with allowances and pensions. Since the war I have been snowed under by complaints about allowances and pensions, but in fairness I must pay a tribute to the way in which the Financial Secretary to the War Office has dealt with several of them. I have no desire to weary the House with a recital of many of these cases, and will content myself with dealing with only two which are very recent ones. The first is the case of a young man who was killed in China. He had been allowing his mother 10s. 6d. a week. He was the son of his mother's first husband, and she had married again. The stepfather earns only 45s. a week. It is true that two others contribute to the home, but if you deduct the cost of rent, rates, fuel, light, insurances, and so forth, there is very little left for food and clothing. The reply of 326 the War Office is to the effect that no allowance can be given unless the stepfather is either deceased or incapable of self-support on account of age or infirmity. Therefore, the mother not only loses her son but loses the allowance of 10s. 6d. a week that he was giving to her. The family is impoverished to that extent. The loss of 10s. 6d. a week is a big loss to a poverty-stricken home of that kind, and this is one of the cases which call, I think, for the machinery to be overhauled and something done.
The next case concerns a reservist. He is now in the Army. He was the breadwinner of the home. The colliery company by which he had been employed made a grant of 5s. a week to his parents; his father, I believe, had previously worked in the same colliery. The parents were put on a means test as war dependants, and the colliery company's grant of 5s. was taken into account. The father was very upset over it and wrote me a strong letter condemning what he called the meanness of the War Office. In effect, the colliery company is sub-sidising the State. The soldier's parents are no better off because of the grant made to them by the colliery company. To say the least, it is decidedly mean on the part of the State to deprive the parents of that 5s. granted by the colliery company. It discourages employers from giving help when otherwise they might be inclined to assist parents whose sons have been called up to fight for the country. I hope the Minister will take these facts into consideration.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Collindridge
I do not apologise for entering this Debate, but I must confess that I do so with rather mixed feelings. In the first place, I think it is our duty to the men who are fighting our battles that we should raise the question of their conditions and the conditions of their dependants. Having said that, I have a certain amount of regret when I realise that an unscrupulous enemy is calculated to use any points of difference there may be between us in this House to the disadvantage of this country. That is the effect of a cause, and the real cause is the bad treatment of the dependants of our serving men. That treatment can he remedied by the Government if they care to do so. My complaints come under three heads. The 327 first is that we ought to have a more simplified method of applying for allowances. I think I shall be able to prove that point. The second is that there is a great deal too much delay in dealing with applications, and the third is that we should ask for more generous allowances to the dependants of these serving men. Those three points are put, in a letter which I have received, very much better than in any language of mine. The letter is short, and I venture to read it to the House. It is as followsDear Mr. Collindridge, I am writing you with regard to my extra allowance, for which my husband has made application and filled up a form in October of last year. Since then he has filled three more forms up, but I have heard nothing. The clerk from the U.A.B. office visited me in the beginning of December. Still nothing has been done. I think it is a downright shame that they take your workers from you but will not help you to keep their homes going while they are away. How can I pay 16s. a week rent, buy coal and light and also buy other things, and live on 24s. a week? Sir John Simon says, 'Let wages stand as they are.' How would he like to try to live on 24s. a week? I wonder whether he knows what it is to go without a meal like I have done? My husband and son are going overseas any time now. Can nothing be done to make things a bit better for me? I know that I am only one in a million. Do you think it is any encouragement for them to know that when they come home they have to start to pay off a debt of rent for which I am definitely unable to pay while they are away? I am a semi-invalid and my doctor has ordered me a diet of milk, meat and fish and plenty of nourishment. I cannot get them, and therefore my health is suffering.There is clear evidence in that letter of the three points that I mentioned, namely, that complicated forms have to be filled up by applicants, that there is great delay, and that there ought to be a more generous allowance. It was October last year when the claim was first made, and only 24s. a week has been allowed to this lady. Out of that sum she has had to pay 16s. 3d. rent.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Oliver Stanley)
Has she applied to the War Grants Committee?
§ Mr. Collindridge
Yes, she has applied. There is a feeling in the district from which I come that the bad treatment of dependants is partly related to the country's allowing conscription to be inflicted upon it; in short, that because men are now legally compelled to go into the Army and you do not need to have re- 328 cruiting meetings and the urge for voluntaryism, you do not need to give inducements in the way of good treatment. I heard that point of view expressed very forcibly only a week ago, and I hope it is not true. Men who wage the country's battles to-day ought not to have worse treatment than those who fought for the country in past wars. The enemy being who he is and the rigours of war being what they are, surely men ought to have better treatment than formerly. In the early stages of this war we are tapping the very young manhood, who have often not the dependant claim of the men who enlisted in the early part of the last war, and we ought to be more generous to them.
In my constituency there are many cases of young apprentices who are on the threshold of manhood and who, instead of receiving a higher wage to enable them to make some return to their parents and their homes, as is the common practice, are being rushed into the Army without any regard being paid to that position. It is typical of a good many homes in Britain that, when young men get to their working life, their families launch into new commitments, such as larger houses or better furniture. The practice of the present Government of declaring that, unless the father is incapable of self-support, there shall be no allowance, is wrong. I have a particularly hard case that I want to mention of a lady and gentleman, the latter, unfortunately, unemployed. They have a son, a reservist, who, prior to the war, was contributing £3 a week to the household largely because his mother was seriously ill and required special nourishment. He goes to the war and makes an allotment to his people, but the Government declare, on the cold, cheerless form, that no allowance can be granted, because, it states:your husband is disqualified on account of not having reached the age-limit.Several hon. Members have mentioned the courtesy that they have received in letters from the Department, and that has been typical in regard to myself. I only wish that our people could have a little better form, even though the result were the same, than the one which I have in my hand and which was sent by the regimental paymaster. It has too many clauses of disqualification. It confirms the remark made by an hon. Member a 329 few minutes ago that the Department appears to seek to rule out cases instead of to accept them.
I have little else to add, but I would raise one more case of hardship. I wrote a letter to the Secretary of State on 4th December. I received a letter in acknowledgement on 5th January, intimating that the Department were sorry that pressure of work had delayed the matter. It referred to the case that I had brought forward from my constituency where the allowance had been applied for. The great feature of the letter was that, though there had been a month's delay, the claim had been accepted and the gentleman concerned was to receive his allowance, dating from 15th September, with arrears. The point that I make about it is that, although the Department was apprised of the situation, in the first two days of war, we had to get to January before the claim was accepted, and there was consequent suffering by the parties concerned.
I will conclude with this reference that I saw in the paper a few days ago. It refers to three serving men who lost their lives on the "Courageous." Two of them in this Northern town were sons of the same father and mother. News of their death was received, and an application was made for a pension for the parents; that application has been flatly refused. The second case is that of a seaman on the "Royal Oak." His father was an old-age pensioner. That application for a pension has also been refused. The third case is that of a stoker who went down on the "Courageous." Prior to the war he was the sole support of his parents, and that case, too, has been refused. I am sorry about cases of this description, in the first place because of the hardship and suffering inflicted upon these poor folk, and particularly because it weakens the national case for which we are fighting.
We on these benches feel that we are engaged in a justifiable struggle. We want to do all we can to resist Fascist aggression. But we realise that humanity is what it is and not what we want it to be, and if humanity is sometimes suffering raw deals like some of the cases I have mentioned, is it any wonder that there are some who are backward in accepting all that we have to say about our national cause? Incidentally, picture 330 this unscrupulous enemy of ours quoting some sentences from the speeches that we make from these benches about the treatment of our fighting men. I have a boy in France with the other lads. He will not be too heartened about this Britain of ours if he hears a recital of the bad treatment of our fighting men and if he hears from these benches, "We are sorry, but we have to do it." We seek no low or mean party advantage by the quotation of these things; it is because we feel that the morale, not only of the country but of the fighting men, will be improved that we ask the Government to alleviate the conditions of the people in regard to these allowances.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Tasker
I desire to ask the Secretary of State for War whether something cannot be done to simplify the forms issued. I am sure these forms are bewildering, not only to the men, but to the officers as well. If something could be done to simplify them, I think we should find that many of our difficulties would vanish, but do not let us be blind to the fact that many of the delays in regard to allowances are due to the nonobservance by serving men of the conditions and if the questions were more carefully answered much trouble would be avoided. Probably few people have criticised the War Office more than myself; in fact, I believe I am regarded in the War Office as an old offender, but one must be perfectly fair. Cases have been cited, and I give one of an officer who has been in France almost from the beginning of the war and who until a fortnight ago had received no pay. It seemed quite unjustifiable, but upon examination the delay was found to be due entirely to the fact that he had left one of the Services and at the end of three weeks had joined another; he had transferred from one branch to another. In the meantime he had gone to France. No new form had been filled up. When I was apprised of the fact that he had received no pay, it is only fair to say that a telephone message to the War Office resulted in an assurance being given that all arrears of pay would be put to the officer's credit in his bank within 48 hours. It was. I put a Question on the Paper, but for the convenience of the House it was unstarred because it occurred to me that one did not want to 331 ask supplementary questions upon it. The Question was:To ask the Secretary of State for War whether warrant officers, non-commissioned officers, and men are given full family allowances, and officers over 30 years of age receive a fiat rate; whether family allowances are granted at equal rate to officers, according to rank, whether there are children or not; and if, in making payment to officers, Income Tax is deducted at source?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th January, 1940; col. 238, Vol. 356.]I hope the Secretary of State for War will take that matter into consideration.
I would like to make reference to men whose sons are serving. I have two sons, both of whom are serving as volunteers. In the case of my second son, whose age is 33, his family allowances were not forthcoming, but when upon investigation it was found that he had not troubled to forward a copy of the marriage certificate you cannot blame the War Office for that. The marriage certificate now having been deposited, I have no doubt his wife will receive 7s. a week or whatever it is. When she has managed to pay her bills there will be no change to lavish on diamonds or anything of that kind, but then my boys and their wives must be prepared to make sacrifices and undergo inconvenience and hardship like all the rest of us.
I rather deprecate the suggestion that men in the Services are treated badly, particularly by their officers. Again, I hope the House will forgive me if I relate my own family experiences. My boy writes:The commanding officer is very strict, but he is very just, and that is all that matters.No greater compliment could be paid to a commanding officer. The spirit of the troops is all right. My boy has written to me and expressed the hope that the King's Regulations would not be broken by a resolution passed by his comrades to the effect that in future when he specifies flooring it shall be free from knots because the dents made in their bodies by the knots on Monday night do not seem to be in the same place on any other night of the week. Through the whole of these letters there is a spirit of cheerfulness, sometimes gaiety, and all exhibit a spirit of determination to win through to victory. I am quite certain that the resolution and spirit of the troops to-day is good in every way, and that we ought to take a pride in the fact that our sons are 332 doing their duty, just as we tried to do our duty to the country in our own generation.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Mr. Sloan
I must be forgiven if I express a tremendous feeling of disappointment at to-night's discussion, and at the very meagre attendance when such an important matter is before us. On occasions like this one regrets that there is such a thing as a political truce. This is a question that should be made one of principle, on which the Government ought to have to justify themselves or face the consequences in the Division Lobby. Otherwise, the whole thing is a farce. I wonder how many Members of Parliament are within the precincts of the House of Commons at the present time, when a matter of such vital importance to hundreds of thousands of people in this country is being discussed. The whole question of allowances bristles with inequalities, injustices, and anomalies; but that ought not to prevent the Government from facing the realities of the situation, and doing something like justice in the matter. I should like to see a by-election fought on the subject of the miserable allowances being paid to the dependants of soldiers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) rather indicated that the Government had overlooked the question of the allowances to be paid to the dependants of unmarried soldiers. I do not think that the question was overlooked; I think it was the considered policy of the Government, and that they have carried through this policy by deliberately producing those regulations without the knowledge of the House. It is a matter of great concern that so little should have been made of the matter this evening. This thing is too rampant, the discontent too widespread, for it to be allowed to rest there. There are many questions which must exercise the minds of Members of the House, many questions which give us a tremendous amount of work in our constituencies at the weekends. But there is a continuous flow of people coming to me every week-end, to point out the grievous injustices they suffer under these regulations. Dependants are receiving no allowances because sole dependency cannot be proved.
I must protest against the fact that the parents of many young Scotsmen who lost their lives in the "Courageous" and the 333 "Royal Oak" have been informed that they can receive no pension because they received no allowances. I noticed in one of our Scottish papers that on the same day that a message of sympathy was received by the mother of a lad who had lost his life she received notification that no pension could be paid. I do not know what is taking place in England, but in Scotland protests are being made all over the country against the loss of income which is being suffered by working-class families who are being reduced in many cases to the point of destitution through their main wage-earners being taken away. It is our duty to protest against such treatment of the parents of young men who have been drafted into the Army. In spite of our protestations of honesty and fair play, our protestations that we are not like other nations but believe in training all people fairly, it is said that we are, after all, a set of cheats and are prepared to place the burden of the war on the backs of those least able to bear it. This system of allowances is cheap and shoddy and an insult to the mothers of the working-class of this country.
How any Government can expect to have a contented Army when lads are being taken from their homes and from their employment, and the wages which provided comforts for their parents are being suddenly withdrawn, is one of the mysteries which cannot be easily explained. This goes to show how far removed the Members of the Government are from the actual conditions of life of the workers of the country. It shows with what callous indifference they can look upon the sufferings of the common people. I suppose that this is considered to be one of the penalties of war, and that working-class mothers should be looked upon as being among the first casualties in a world conflict. It is difficult to understand how these utterly inadequate allowances have been arrived at, otherwise than as a result of determination on the part of the Government that the poorest must make the highest sacrifices. I know of cases in my own constituency where parents have had to give up their sons who were earning £2, £3, or £4 a week, and no allowance can be made because of this absurd regulation that no allowance can be made when the weekly income of the dependants' household, after allowing for rent and certain other items, 334 reaches an average of 15s. per head, each child counting as half a person. I am not surprised that, after reading the regulations, parents are singing, "Land of Hope and Goering."
These regulations are causing considerable surprise and indignation in the country—surprise because of the absolutely different approach to the matter compared with that of 1914; indignation because of the miserable meanness displayed in the treatment of parents and other dependants. It is difficult to explain to parents that they are not entitled to an allowance when they remember that during the last war all that was required was proof that the soldier was contributing to the household and proof of his willingness to make an allotment from his soldier's pay. That was the total requirement then; it should be the total requirement now. You have no right whatever to deplete the family income to such an extent without making redress in some form or another. What justification is there, for instance, for taking a young miner, an artisan or a labourer from a household when he has only just commenced earning a journeyman's wage, after years of apprenticeship, and giving him nothing in return. Remember that in interpreting these cases you take everything. Many employers, especially local authorities, are allowing the difference up to 50 per cent. or 75 per cent. of the wages earned in industry or profession. This is some help to the parents, but in the case where nothing is allowed you are forcing the family back into starvation from which they have just emerged. It is morally and criminally wrong.
Have the Government ever heard of the alarming increase in the cost of living that has taken place since the outbreak of war? It is an increase that is not represented, as far as the workers are concerned, by the index figure of the Board of Trade, but it is an increase that is having a very serious effect upon the meagre incomes of the workers. Is it the opinion of the Government that the dependants of soldiers who are fighting in this war should go hungry and remain under-fed and undernourished, so that Income Tax should not again be increased? In his Mansion House speech the Prime Minister suggested that in times of trial we cannot guarantee that sacrifices are all going to be equal, but he said, taking his eyes from his manuscript and looking at his 335 comfortably fed audience, "If each one makes the sacrifice when the call comes to him, his own conscience will be clear." Has the Prime Minister been living so far from reality, is he really so ill-informed as not to know of the struggle in which millions of people in this country have to live even in normal times? Does he imagine that the masses have made no sacrifice and that the burden of the war has fallen solely upon his Mansion House friends? In applying these regulations they have stooped to tactics which would put to shame public assistance officials or means test investigators. They are harsh, brutal and inhuman.
I wonder whether the Government, when they are considering this question of perspective, have in the background the amount that has been paid during the last 20 years in pensions to dependants of soldiers killed in the last war. We are so often reminded that we have paid out no less than £1,500,000,000 in pensions to the dependants of those who made this enormous sacrifice. They gave all that they held dear—their lives. Do the Government intend to make the same mistake again? If millions are to be paid in pensions at the conclusion of this war, what will those millions be compared with the thousands of millions paid out in war interest? After all, the soldiers give their lives and end their existence in this world before they have hardly started to live. Millions have been paid in pensions in respect of services rendered and of lives surrendered. Millions have been paid out in war interest, which to a large extent has been a cruel fraud upon a gullible public.
We cannot profess to be surprised at the attitude of the Government, constructed as it is, a Government supported by all the vested interests in the country. Unless public opinion is expressed, there will be no improvement in allowances and no pensions, and there will be no improvement in the regulations that we are discussing this evening. This great Empire of ours has been built up on the point of the sword, and provision that has been made for soldiers' dependants is in keeping with the psychology of the Government.
There is a campaign raging in the country at the present time, designed for 336 the purpose of teaching the ordinary man of the street that this war is exacting such a fearful wastage of wealth that it must really be paid for by a lower standard of life by the people of this country. The campaign has been opened by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister at the Mansion House and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the City of Glasgow, in my own country. Both meetings have proved failures. The Mansion House meeting was a complete fiasco, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer certainly did not cover himself with glory in St. Andrew's Hall at Glasgow. The Government would be well advised not to attempt, in some of these comic-opera gatherings, to lecture the rich people on the necessity of the sacrifices of the poor. It is surprising that Ministers, who address meetings such as that at the Mansion House or St. Andrew's Hall, when they are surrounded by friends and exploiters of every description, should forget that their words resound outside the special circle in which they speak. They let themselves go, as the two principal Ministers of the Crown let themselves go. They were remarkably candid. I do not think that I would be placing an undue strain upon the English language if I said that they were cynically and brutally frank. The Prime Minister hinted that we had reached the limit of taxation of the rich and that any further sacrifices required would be called upon from the poor. He warned us that it would be a mistake to tie up wages to a cost-of-living basis and that it would simply be unpatriotic to ask for increases of wages. If I took the same argument, I would say that it would be unpatriotic for soldiers to ask for increased allowances for their dependants. If that view is to be applied to the question of dependants' allowances, I am afraid that we shall get a raw deal.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister warned the country against complacency. May I take this opportunity, in conclusion, to warn the Government against complacency? That way means disaster. Under the guise of a semi-political truce you cannot ride roughshod over the rights of the people. The people of the country will not stand for it, and a decent measure of justice must be given to the dependants of soldiers who are called upon to fight.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley
If the far from crowded House, to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) has referred in some spirit of bitterness, will allow me, I would prefer to reply to the Debate in the spirit of the speeches that went first, and not in the spirit of the speech which we have just heard. It was, I think, the first time that I had heard a speech from the hon. Gentleman, which I imagined was so familiar to myself that certainly, had I closed my eyes, I might well have thought that I was not listening to the hon. Gentleman but to Lord Haw-Haw of Zeesen. The hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate and all other hon. Members who have spoken on both sides have approached this question in a very sympathetic spirit, and it is in that spirit that I want to reply for the Government. It would be idle to pretend that in the few days during which I have been in my new post it has been possible to go into the details of the complicated problem that we have been discussing to-night or that I should be in a position to give to the House anything but my own considered opinion. I appreciate that the question we have been discussing to-night is one of the most important that it is possible for this House to discuss. We have been discussing things which really touch the pocket of the ordinary man and woman, and whether maladministration, lack of appreciation, or over-rigidity may mean, not a loss of luxuries or a little money, but real hardship and grievance. In these cases we must all realise that to a large extent the morale of the various Services will depend upon whether they feel that not only themselves but those for whom they have affection, and have left behind, are being fairly treated.
I can assure the House that it is with a full sense of the importance of this subject that I have listened to the Debate to-night. I am not—and I do not think the House will expect me to do so—going to give anything like definite or final answers to many of the questions raised, although I shall refer to a number of points which have been brought up. I feel that the whole of this matter requires the personal investigation of whatever Minister is to answer to the House, and I intend to go not only into the actual complaints raised during the Debate but into the whole of the system, in order 338 to satisfy myself of what is right so that I can defend it in my own conscience. To begin with, there is one general observation that I should make. Nearly all of us are agreed on the two extremities. All would agree that to put forward to this House and the country a system of dependants' allowances and ring it round so tightly with conditions as to make it inoperative would be intolerable. It would be deceiving the House and the country. On the other extremity, the Government have never pretended that this system, or any other system which it would be possible to devise under these circumstances, is one that would ensure that war would make no difference to the position of anyone concerned. It would be an attitude impossible to adopt and sustain. War is going to make a difference, and has made a difference, and no amount of speeches in the House can prevent a difference in the circumstances of a great number of people in this country.
But between these two extremities all of us want to see a system which will work as fairly and as expeditiously as possible, and which will relieve these cases of grievance, need, and hardship. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), who speaks on the subject with great restraint, but with great authority, called my attention to a number of points which I will certainly look into. I cannot, however, feel that it would be possible to dissociate payment of allowances at this time entirely from the circumstances of those who would be recipients. We are here dealing with quite a different problem from that of the means test and allowances. The Army of to-day takes into its ranks people from all kinds of financial strata. It takes people of wealth and culture as well as those who are poor, and there will be many relations of those serving in the ranks to-day in such financial circumstances that we should find it quite impossible to justify the State making an extra contribution. I cannot for a moment hold out to hon. Members opposite any hope that I should feel it right, in the granting of these allowances, that no question of the necessity of the recipients should arise.
There is one point which the hon. Gentleman made and which seemed a prevalent mistake throughout the Debate. There is an assumption that the de- 339 pendant of a man who is killed is not entitled to receive and cannot receive a pension unless the dependant at the time of the man's death was receiving a dependant's allowance. That is not, of course, correct. There are conditions which have to be observed if pensions are to be granted, but they are conditions which, looked at at the time of death, should have no necessary relation to the fact of whether a dependant's allowance is being paid or not.
§ Mr. Lawson
Is the Minister aware that, to my own knowledge, I have never yet come across a case where no allowance has been granted, but that the decision has been that there is no pension if there is no allowance?
§ Mr. Stanley
In comparison with the last war the number of fatal casualties has not been very large, but I am only stating the fact that under the regulations there is in fact no necessary and essential link between the payment of dependants' allowances and the granting of a pension.
§ Mr. Stanley
As I say, if they fulfil the conditions of payment at the time of death the mere fact that no dependant's allowance has been paid does not invalidate a claim for pension.
§ Mr. Maxton
Does the investigation of the Ministry of Pensions take place quite independently of that of the Army authorities when they are fixing whether a dependant's allowance is to be paid or not?
§ Mr. Stanley
My hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions says that they are quite independent. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, quite apart from dealing with these broader questions, also raised some important points with regard to the actual administration. He attached considerable importance, and I think rightly, 340 not only to the actual administration but to the form of it. It is not only a question whether a letter says "yes" or "no," but the way in which the letter says "yes" or "no"—the actual way in which explanations are made to people as to why it is not possible to give an allowance now or what the amount of the allowance should be. I agree with him that it is of very considerable psychological importance and I will include that in my inquiries.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Will the right hon. Gentleman see that they do not write letters to people in lead pencil? I have one now from the office in Edinburgh written in lead pencil, and while the right hon. Gentleman may read it because he is much cleverer, the people who receive these letters cannot read them.
§ Mr. Stanley
I might be able to read the letter, not for the reason given by the hon. Member but because for something like 40 years I have had to read my own writing. The hon. Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant) raised the difficult question of parents who may have incurred a debt in order to give their son an extra education in the expectation that in time he will be able to pay it back, and that just at the moment when he is able to make a contribution he is called up or joins the Army and no allowance is payable. That I realise is an important subject and one which I will investigate. The actual case which he mentioned seemed to me a typical case for the War Services Grants Committee. We recognise that whatever may be done in the way of standard allowances there will be certain cases where the circumstances of the family are such that the blow will fall much harder than anywhere else, and that these cases cannot be dealt with by any hard-and-fast system of administration and can be dealt with only by a discretionary inquiry into each case. That is a service which the War Services Grants Committee perform, and I cannot believe that they approach their task with the hardest of hearts as stated by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan).
§ Mr. Stanley
The hon. Member is the possessor of the warmest of hearts and perhaps judges the hearts of other people 341 by his own, but certainly it is the desire of the Government that the War Service Grants Committee, whose discretion is so essential an aid to the general scheme, should administer the scheme not in the spirit of trying to find a way out of giving an allowance but in a genuine desire, as is, in fact, I am sure done, to meet cases of hardship when they arise. The hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) made an interesting speech in which she covered a number of widely separated points. She dealt with the question of the delay in payments to separated wives under a court order. She will realise that some delay is difficult to avoid, because when it is a question of a soldier the case has to be considered by the military authorities. Under the law they have a discretion as to the decision, but instructions have been sent out to the authorities to ask them to expedite the examination of these cases and also to expedite as much as possible the exercise of their discretion in the stoppages.
Are they going to report to the Secretary of State for War? That is very important. If they know that they have to report to the Secretary of State for War it would make all the difference to the expedition in which the cases are dealt with. I have great faith in the War Office in a variety of directions, though not in all.
§ Mr. Stanley
I am told that the actual case which the hon. Member mentioned was settled to-day. She also raised the question of reductions in rank, resulting, of course, in a decrease of payment to the wives, and she quoted a case where the recovery of the overpayment which had occurred owing to the delay, was made at a rate which really reduced the weekly payment almost to nothing. I agree with the hon. Lady that a sudden reduction to that amount in one week should be avoided wherever possible. I understand that instructions have been sent to the effect that any recoveries should be made at a reasonable rate, and I will inquire fully into that and see that it is done. The rest of the hon. Lady's speech dealt with subjects which are somewhat alien to the matter we have been discussing. I know that she has already been given an answer to all the questions she raised with regard to the War Office by the high officer who is responsible, and so perhaps 342 she will excuse me from answering them again. With regard to the beds of which she made great play, I have made inquiries and I understand that beds of similar types are being used now in Government Departments by civil servants who from time to time have to spend the night in the office, and I understand that one is about to be used in a few hours by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff himself, who has so far suffered no ill effects from it.
The hon. Member for Gorbals said that, although he was entirely in agreement with the broad point raised by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, he did not intend to follow his hon. Friend, but wanted to deal with specific cases of minor, but nevertheless considerable, importance. One case which he raised was the case where there is a delay, where the Unemployment Assistance Board has had to be appealed to in the interval, and then, subsequently, the allowance has been granted. I cannot agree that there should be a period during which the State is paying twice, although through different channels. I do not think the hon. Member would say that, when it comes to paying arrears of the allowance which is finally granted by the State, that sum must not be added to what the State has already paid through another agency, namely the Unemployment Assistance Board. I will, however, look into the question of how this is done, and particularly whether it is possible to include some kind of statement as to the net loss and gain, and also do something in order that the recipient, if she thinks there has been some mistake in the amount of the payments of the Unemployment Assistance Board which have been charged against her allowances, shall be notified of it, and be able to take it up in order to have the mistake rectified.
The question of the illegitimate child of a woman who has subsequently married the soldier seems to me to be a very difficult and hard case. I confess it is one that I have not heard of before, and certainly it is one which I will consider. As to the deserter or the man in prison who suffers a stoppage of pay, I understand that problem was under consideration at the War Office before I went there, and certainly I will go into it personally. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collingdridge) is not in the Chamber. He did not make 343 any particular point to which I wanted to reply, but I should have liked to congratulate him upon his speech and the spirit in which he spoke. Quite obviously, like other hon. Members who have spoken, with one exception, he wanted to redress grievances and not merely to make political capital. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) raised two individual cases rather than matters of general importance. Perhaps he will give me the full details and allow me to look into them, and reply to him personally. Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn (Sir R. Tasker) seems to have anticipated that my answer to him would be so unsatisfactory that it was not worth waiting for.
§ Mr. Lawson
May I say that I appreciate the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has been present all the evening listening to the Debate; I say that especially in view of the very heavy duties that fall upon him. There is one point I would like to put to him before he concludes. Will he give serious attention to paragraph (8, c) which practically rules out all single men from serious consideration for allowances? I am certain that, as far as single men are concerned, everything swings upon this paragraph.
§ Mr. Stanley
When I say that I will give consideration to it, that is what I mean; I do not mean that I am giving a promise. I realise that probably the hon. Gentleman is right, and that this is about the most important of the con- 344 ditions that have been discussed. All these questions of allowances are matters which the House of Commons should discuss from time to time. They are matters which should be kept constantly under review. Circumstances alter and difficulties appear, and no one, even if for a moment he is satisfied, should complacently think that everything is all right. A good deal has been said about pensions. My hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions tells me that he has been referring many of these questions that have been mentioned to his Advisory Committee, and is now awaiting their report; because he, too, knowing the feeling that has been expressed, wants to satisfy himself either that he can completely defend what has been done, or, if he cannot do that, to alter it. I have given the same pledge to the House. I have not pledged myself to this or that reform or alteration, but what I have pledged myself to is a personal investigation into the whole of the system; and a promise that I can give to the House is that I will not defend either the continuance of a particular item in the scales or the administration unless I personally am satisfied that I can do so with a good conscience.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twelve Minutes before Nine o'Clock, until Tuesday next, 23rd January, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.