§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. James Stuart.]
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
To-day we have to debate a White Paper which has been issued from my Department dealing with improved arrangements for making provisions for the families of members of His Majesty's Forces during the present war. I am aware that there had been a demand for a general all-round increase in pay and allowances. This matter was very carefully considered by the Cabinet, and the decision was arrived at that it would not be possible to make this all-round increase. There were two reasons for that. One was that a flat-rate all-round increase would be so costly that it would be almost impossible to contemplate at the present time. I myself had another objection—and I think a much more important objection—to this scheme for a general all-round increase, inasmuch as I was satisfied, from my experience of over two years in connection with making war service grants as an addition to the allowances made from the Services, that any flat-rate increase could not possibly cover all the cases of hardship, and that unless you devised some scheme whereby real hardship could be alleviated it would be useless to go on with a scheme that would meet only a very small proportion of the hardship cases.
Therefore, I submitted to the Government the scheme which is outlined in the White Paper, which I feel will meet the position and bring about decided improve- 1532 ments as regards the families, dependants and children of men serving in the Forces. My experience in dealing with this matter has proved to me that many families have been compelled to live on a lower standard than should reasonably be expected, not due entirely to the normal rates of Service pay and allowances, but to the fact that the war service grants scheme, which I have been administering for over two years, was so narrowly drawn that it did not give me a real chance to deal with the many cases of hardship. Under the Regulations we had this method. First of all, there was taken the pre-Service income of the household and then the in-Service income of the household. A comparison was made and both cases were reduced to a unit figure for a household. I found that many of those who had been in low-paid employment before they joined the Services, and those out of employment for a considerable time, so that they had to draw unemployment or Assistance Board benefit, were, as a result of the unit figure basis, actually better off in the Services than they had been in civil life. I did succeed in obtaining improvements in the scheme whereby I was able to load-up in the case of those who received a low standard of pay or were not receiving any pay at all for work before they joined the Forces. That helped considerably, but it was not quite enough. I shall quote a ease later on to show how hardly this worked, and I am now asking the House to agree to the re-casting of the old system so that we can, I think, meet every case of hardship.
Very careful consideration has been given to this matter. Those of my Department who have been administering the old scheme have been able to make very valuable suggestions and I have also consulted Members of this House and of the Forces, both officers and men in the ranks, so that I have got to know pretty well where the difficulties come in. But if in the course of this Debate to-day suggestions are made which appear to me to be worthy of consideration, I can assure hon. Members that I shall be glad to have their suggestions. May I explain the scheme as outlined in the White Paper? Paragraph 1 deals with the question of the minimum standard. In assessing the needs of the household under the old 1533 system, we took, as I said before, the pre-Service and in-Service standards and arrived at a unit figure. That unit figure varied considerably, because in some cases a household received a higher income before the war than after the commencement of the war. I came to the conclusion that the best method was to set a minimum standard per unit below which there would be nothing taken into account, so that we could give a guarantee that, at any rate, every household had that minimum standard unit figure. I took advice on this matter from various sources, including the medical profession, and we fixed that minimum standard—and I want to make it clear that it is a minimum standard—at 16s. a week per unit. That is for maintenance, after providing for rent and other commitments which include rates, insurance premiums and hire purchase instalments. Then there are "et ceteras" and I think it is just as well that I should try and let hon. Members know what we really cover in the way of other commitments. I wanted to have the "et ceteras" in because if there had been included in the White Paper and in the Regulations everything I could think of, it would have been just possible that something would have been left out. If something had been approved by the House and no discretion had been allowed to the Minister, many things that could have been put down as commitments might not have been allowed.
Commitments other than those mentioned in the White Paper that have been allowed in the past, and will be allowed in the future, are mortgage interest, repairs to property where the owner is living in his own house, educational charges, war damage contributions, and additional rent if a house is bombed and the person concerned has to take another house and pay a double rent. I want to make it quite clear that for an adult the unit figure is 16s., and that two children under school-leaving age count as one unit, but that when a child over the normal school-leaving age—I believe it is fifteen—[HON. MEMBERS: "Fourteen."]—Whatever is the law in this matter. When a child above the normal school-leaving age continues at school, we are going to reckon that child, after 15 years of age, as an adult at one unit. If the child continues his or her education, we shall allow not only educational charges but count the child as a full unit. 1534 because we know that growing lads over 14 can eat as much as an adult and that very often their clothes cost as much. I want it to be understood that all this does not interfere in any way with the ordinary Service grants from the Service Departments, which will go to the families as in the past. It is only when they have received these Service grants that we take into consideration what is required in addition. The commitments referred to have to be met first, and met out of public funds, if necessary, and after that, the household is to be guaranteed an income of 16s: a unit for food and clothing. In cases where the pre-Service standard was above the minimum level—we are not going to rule out those people who are entitled to more than 16s., but simply say that 16s. shall be the absolute minimum—we can take the amount up to 20s. a unit without there being any reduction whatever. But I submit that in the case of any income over the 20s. unit, we have a right, in these very difficult times, to ask those people to make some little sacrifice. Beyond the 20s. unit, it is suggested in the White Paper that there should be a graduated basis that can take the amount up to a certain figure which I will announce in a moment.
In passing, let me say that pre-Service basic wages are adjusted or loaded to allow for prospective increases in wages. This is a very important matter. There are some men who joined up in the early days of the war and at that time were working in certain jobs in which the standard rate of wages has now gone up. If a man comes into the Services from the same occupation now, he has, of course, a higher standard to present to us. Therefore, there would be the anomaly of two men who were working at the same job and now that they are in the Army, one would get a little more than the other in the way of allowances because he happened to have been left in civil life longer than the other. To meet this situation, we intend to take into account what may be termed prospective increases in wages. For instance, take the case of an apprentice who came into the Army at 20 years of age. If he had stayed in civil life until he was 21, he would have been getting either an improver's wages or the full scale of wages. In such a case, we shall take, not the apprentice's wages but the wages he would have been getting if he 1535 had remained in civil life, as a basis for arriving at the pre-Service income.
I found that it would be utterly impossible to do these things if we maintained the £2 maximum grant, as laid down two years ago. So I requested the Government—and they have expressed agreement—to raise the figure from £2 to £3, and I am now in the position where, if it can be shown to be justified, I can make a grant up to £3 a week. I want to make it clear that we want the officer class to apply for these grants. In the past, we have had very few applications from officers. I have been told it is because in some cases they have been discouraged from making these applications, or it may be they have thought this was something in the nature of charity—which is entirely wrong. I hope we shall get claims from the officers as well as from the ranks. I submit to the House that the more we can make these things known throughout the country, the better it will be for the serving men and their wives and families.
Let me give a further illustration to that given in the White Paper of how the scheme will work in practice. In the illustration in the White Paper, it is shown that a wife with two children will have 32s. a week for maintenance after meeting all the reasonable commitments to which I have referred. There are cases which, I think, give a better illustration than that of the scheme, and one came to my notice only this week. A woman with six children made an application for a war service grant. Before joining the Forces, her husband had not had a regular job for years, but had been in intermittent employment, and therefore, the pre-Service income of the household was exceedingly small. It was about 5s 9d. to 6s. a unit per week after meeting other commitments, which I am sure all hon. Members will agree was far too low for that family to live on. This woman put forward a claim and made this statement. She was drawing altogether from the Services £2 14s. a week; that is, her own allowance, plus the children's allowances; and the expenses for rent, rates and so on, came to about £1 a week, leaving her with £1 14s. with which to keep herself and six children in food and clothing. Under the old system, we could not give her a war service grant, because, even 1536 with all the loading in the world, we could not bring the unit figure down to the figure shown in the pre-Service period. It was a very unfortunate case, and it is, of course, one of the cases that impressed me very much when considering what we could do under this scheme. Under the new scheme, this is what will happen in her case. She is guaranteed a minimum standard of 16s. a unit after commitments have been met, so that altogether she will receive for herself and six children a guaranteed sum of £3 4s. a week after all commitments have been met—that is to say, her allowance from the Army, plus the allowance we shall make. She will be sure of £3 4s. a week in addition to the amount of money required to meet her commitments. I think hon. Members will see from that illustration how we shall be able to benefit many families throughout the country.
I know it has been stated that the War Service Grants Committee have in the past given as much as 16s. a unit and 25s. a unit. This has not been a minimum standard or a standard of any kind. That has come about from the fact that the pre-Service income showed that higher figure and therefore even under the old system we could grant a higher figure. This is a decided improvement. Poorer families will benefit considerably, and even those not quite so poor will get a benefit out of the new arrangement in comparison between the pre-Service and the in-Service income. But that was not enough. I realised that there were many other things that crop up in addition to the ordinary commitments and the mere provision of food and clothing, and I gathered from the records of my Department what some of the hardships were. In the average working-class household the greatest disaster that can happen short of losing the breadwinner is the sickness that comes into the house. If the breadwinner is sick, instead of getting his full wages he is only getting sickness benefit, and there are extra costs of everything.
It means a good deal. A working-class family where the head of the household is in full employment and they have good health has a far better chance than those who have to contend with sickness in the household. I felt that I ought to have a provision in anything in the way of new regulations giving me the privilege of making an allowance where there is 1537 sickness in the family, so we are going to allow up to a maximum of £10. We think that will cover it. I hope it will, but if it does not, I may have to come back and ask for more. We are not taking into account any expenditure of less than £2. The reason is that we do not want trivial claims, because that would make it almost impossible to carry on our work. We will accept the certificate of any doctor; we do not send our own doctor to inquire. If a doctor certifies that there is illness in the family, we shall take that as a guarantee that it is so and we shall pay out on it.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Fulham, West)
When the right hon. Gentleman talks about trivial complaints, he does not understand the position. The child suffering from measles will not necessarily have a bill of as much as £2, but if it is 30s. it will be a tremendous handicap to a woman who has only 8s. a week for the child.
§ Sir W. Womersley
We can trust the medical profession to deal fairly and squarely with us. We have considered the matter very carefully, and that is the conclusion we have come to, and I think it is a fair one. We also find that another thing that creates hardship is where there is a death in the family, so I have arranged that we shall make a payment up to £7 10s., which is the normal Government funeral grant. If a child is dead or if it is a case of a woman, we make the grant just the sane. We shall deal with these applications for sickness or death payments through our local officers. I will make an announcement about the procedure very shortly. As regards dependants, I have mentioned the childless wife who finds herself going to have a child, and we make that alteration for her, but in the case where she is unfit for work by reason of age or infirmity, we shall then put her on the highest scale, and she will get the benefit of this new arrangement.
I will now announce what we are going to do as regards dependent parents and other dependants. Improvements were made earlier in the year in the method of assessing allowances to the dependants of unmarried men. We took into account the provisions of the Determination of Needs Act and will operate under that. I want to supplement that by giving the 1538 benefit of these new arrangements in the case of solely dependent parents. That is the term used in the White Paper. "Parent" there means parents, so it is parent or parents, when the serving man was the breadwinner of the house. A widowed mother with an only son qualified in the same way as his wife would do if he were married. I think that is a reasonable and fair way of dealing with a dependent mother. These changes will relieve the man of a great deal of anxiety about his family. I have been told by many serving soldiers that the question of an increase of pay is not one that has been exercising their minds very much. What has been exercising their minds undoubtedly has been when they have had letters from wives and dependants telling them of the difficulties they are having to face. The woman I have mentioned would have a perfect right to complain that she was not having sufficient to carry on the household, and that is the thing that has made so many men feel disgruntled and disheartened when they have been long away from their families and cannot go and help them.
I am certain that taking that burden off their shoulders is something which the men will regard as of value. Under the old system if a man had an increase of pay because of promotion that was taken into account in calculating his in-service income, and many men who have been serving and have worked hard and got their proficiency certificates and increased pay did not object to its being passed on to the wife and family, but when they discovered that when it was passed on we made a similar deduction from the allowance the position was this, that the man was awarded proficiency pay, but did not get it. The wife got it, but lost a similar amount from the grant and so was no better off. There were many complaints on that score, and I can well understand it. What we have decided to do is this. The man will be allowed a fair share of the increased pay for his own pocket up to 4s. a day. We do not take anything into account until the man has more than 4s. a day. Over 4s. a day four-sevenths of the increase goes to his family, and he keeps three-sevenths for his own pocket. To give an example, a man is paid 3s. 9d. a day, 2s. is allotted to the family, and he keeps 1s. 9d. A man with 5s. 9d. a day with a qualifying allotment of 2s. would keep 2s. 9d. for himself. He 1539 will have his 4s. a day less his original allotment, and we shall not take any account of that in calculating the grant to his family.
I am authorised to state, on behalf of the Government, that the matter of travelling warrants has received a good deal of attention, because there has been a good deal of complaint. Up to the present a man was allowed two free travelling warrants a year. If he went on leave on any other occasion he had to pay the fare himself, though it was a reduced fare. It was double journey for a single fare. That meant that if a man was serving in the North of Scotland with his home in the Midlands a single fare would come to £4 10s.; if he lived in the South of England it would be considerably more. He was faced with this: If he had seven days' leave, he could either spend it where he was stationed or pay out of his own pocket and go to see his wife and family. These men had not got the money so a system grew up whereby they were advanced the money, and after they came back for a considerable time so much was deducted from the pay each week and they were left with very little spending money. The Government have agreed to this. In future a man may have a free railway warrant in addition to a free warrant for embarkation leave whenever he goes home on privilege leave so that if he takes his leave in four periods, he will get four free warrants instead of two, which is the general rule at present. That is the Government decision, and I am glad to have the privilege of announcing it, because I have been an advocate of this for a long time.
I may be asked about the cost of these improvements. No exact estimate can be made. The present cost of war service grants is about £5,500,000 a year. I have had careful calculations made, and we can expect that to go up by another £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 on account of these concessions. I hope we shall have a good 'deal of publicity, so that the wives and families and dependants and the serving men themselves will know all about the scheme. We want them to apply. We do not want to make the concession and get no applications. We shall try to get the newspapers to help us, and I am going to broadcast to-night. I want to get as many people to know 1540 about it as possible. I am expecting that as the result of this wider publicity we shall have claims coming in, claims which could have come in before had the men known about it. I am putting down £2,000,000 on top of the estimate that I have given to deal with the extra cost which I am hoping will come in because of this publicity. That will amount to £13,500,000, and I hope the Horse will not refuse me that grant.
§ Sir W. Womersley
About 350,000 cases. The cost for the extra travelling warrants will be £5,500,000. All the changes in war service grants date from the first pay-day in November.
I now come to the question of how I will deal with this matter. No applications will be needed for the cases that have already been dealt with. They will be dealt with automatically by my Department without application. I hope that hon. Members will make it known to their constituents that those who are drawing war service grants need not apply again. We shall deal with their cases and readjust the grants due straight away. If we get a lot of correspondence about the cases already on our books it will clog the machinery, and I want to keep the machinery running smoothly in the next few weeks in order to tackle one of the biggest jobs which a Minister has had to tackle for a long time.
§ Captain Strickland (Coventry)
I am not clear with regard to cases that have been submitted and rejected—
§ Sir W. Womersley
If hon. Members will give me a chance I will deal with all the points. Cases where applications have been rejected because the pre-war service was not long enough to qualify for a grant will be reviewed and no fresh applications will be necessary.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
Does that apply to the cases of pensions for dependent parents which have been refused?
§ Sir W. Womersley
We are not discussing pensions to-day. We are discussing allowances to the families and dependants of those serving in the Forces. With regard to the remaining cases, I realise that that is where we shall have some little difficulty. We will try 1541 what publicity can do. The form of applications will be available in all the Assistance Board offices in the country.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Because the Post Office have told us that they cannot undertake it. They are over-pressed now, and we are trying to make the best of the circumstances that prevail. I should like to have the forms distributed through many agencies, but if the Post Office are not willing to undertake the work I cannot make them.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that Assistance Board offices are established only in the very large villages and towns? There are thousands of villages from which women will have to journey to the nearest town to get a form from the Assistance Board officers. Will not the right hon. Gentleman reconsider this and make the forms available at the Post Offices?
§ Sir W. Womersley
We expect the man himself to make the application if he is serving in this country and he can get a form from his commanding officer. Supplies are being sent to all commanding officers, and if we hear of cases where they have not had them we take them up immediately. We have had no complaints from the Navy or the Air Force, hut at one time there were complaints that men could not get the forms in the Army. If the men will apply there will be no need for his dependants to go to the Assistance Board office. Officers in the Army will make it as easy as possible for men to put in their claims. I hope that the War Office will issue an instruction to that effect. That will dispose of a tremendous number of applications. There will, of course, be applications which must of necessity come from the woman. Her husband may be serving abroad or, what is surprising in these days, the man will not bother to apply. We do not say to the woman, "Because your husband has applied and you have applied we shall not complain about having a duplicate application," although we want to avoid duplicate applications as much as possible. I will consider any other method of getting these forms into the hands of the people concerned. The Post Office is definitely ruled out. I 1542 agree that the Assistance Board offices are not in every little village but if a woman asks the Post Office for the address of the nearest Assistance Board office, which they will supply, she can drop 3 postcard to the Assistance Board office and they will send a form of application by return. She need not, therefore, make a long journey.
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
Will my right hon. Friend make one more effort with the Post Office? At the present time, for Army dependants' allowances people can go to the Post Office and ask for the notes for the guidance of applicants and get application forms. The right hon. Gentleman's present proposal, therefore, will create one more anomaly. If the Post Office can deal with application forms for dependants' allowances, why cannot they deal with war service grants?
§ Sir W. Womersley
We will have another try if you like. May I make a correction before I go further. I have had a note passed to me stating that in the case of rejected claims it will create a good deal of difficulty to re-open them without applications. It will, therefore, be necessary for an application to be sent in in every case of a rejected claim. I was hoping that we would be able to deal with those claims from our files, but apparently that would be so big a job that it would be better for new claims to be sent in.
§ Mr. Buchanan
If the Post Office fails, could not the Department see whether other local agencies could be substituted? We have in our city registry offices for births, marriages and deaths. They are very accessible and central. The food offices might also be used. In my city the Assistance Board offices will be useful, but they do not always cover every area, particularly the new housing schemes.
§ Captain Strickland
Would it not be possible to obviate man-handling these forms by having them available in a box in the Post Office so that people can help themselves?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I am willing to look into points of that kind. I am anxious that no family in this country whose breadwinner is serving suffers because it did not know about the scheme. I want them to know about it, and I want it to 1543 be made as easy as possible for them to make their applications and to be assisted to fill up the forms. Although this form has been made as simple as possible in the circumstances there are still people to whom it presents difficulties, and the Assistance Board have volunteered to help them, and it is very good of them to do so, and it is one of the advantages of letting them go to the Assistance Board. On the other hand, there are throughout the country what are known as citizens' advice bureaux. It may be, also, that some local authorities may be prepared to allow some of their officials to assist in this work. I am open to consider any suggestion. All that I am anxious to do is to see that those who have a claim can send it through to the proper quarter and that it is dealt with in the proper way. We want everybody to apply and to feel that cases will be considered fairly and squarely.
I know that many hon. Members wish to take part in this Debate, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will, I hope, be able to reply to any points which they put forward. All I would say in conclusion is that I want to make it clear to the House and to the country at large, and especially to the men in the Services, that this war service grant is not a charity. I want any idea of its being a charity to be swept clean out of the minds of the men who are serving. The men are as much entitled to a grant as to the ordinary Service allowances. I want to stress that point particularly as regards officers. They should realise that it is not a charity, but their right. It has been given to them as a right, and they ought to apply and get whatever benefits they can from this scheme. A committee on which some Members of this House have served have devoted a good deal of time to the work of dealing with war service grants under the old regulations, cramped and confined as they were. They have attended two mornings a week, which has been a great sacrifice on the part of busy Members of Parliament, and I wish to thank them for the work they have done. From time to time they have made suggestions to me, and many of them have been embodied in this new scheme.
Finally, let me say that after giving the most serious consideration to the best way of meeting the difficulties arising in 1544 connection with the families and the dependants of serving men I am satisfied that this is the only way whereby we can be sure that no family of a serving man shall suffer any hardship. If any other way can be suggested I shall be glad to consider it, because my one and only object is to do something for the men who are serving. We are all proud of them; most of us have members of our own families serving. We think of the conditions in the last war and of the men we knew then., and we want to feel that the anxieties which men suffered then have been lifted from their minds, and that the soldiers of to-day can go on with their jobs without worrying over possible distress in their homes. May I say, lastly, that women in the Services are on terms of equality with the men in respect of grants under this scheme.
§ Major Milner (Leeds, South East)
The right hon. Gentleman always impresses the House by his sympathetic treatment of his subject and his evident desire to do what he can to help, and we are grateful to him for his exposition of the situation and of the White Paper, and particularly for the little bit of sugar he gave us almost at the end of his speech when he announced the four free warrants per year, a concession which will be generally and whole-heartedly approved. But this is an occasion when, whatever the consequences, one must be perfectly frank, and I shall say at once that I am really very sorry for the Minister of Pensions. In tackling this tremendous job he has been handed the baby to hold by the real culprits, who are the Service Departments. It is a very unhealthy and sick baby, suffering from a great many complications.
§ Major Milner
And the complications are the result of many years of gross neglect on the part of these Departments, principally the War Office. We ought to have the Secretary of State for War present here. I did notice the Financial Secretary to the War Office, but he is not with us now, but let it be clear that this question is primarily the responsibility of the Service Departments. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will do his best to administer the scheme, but the responsibility remains where it was.
§ Major Haden Guest (Islington, North)
On a point of Order. Can we not have in the House a representative of the War Office upon this extremely important matter? It is important that we should have representatives of the War Office and of the other Services.
§ Major Milner
The situation regarding pay and allowances is already one almost of chaos. The present system has grown up little by little throughout the years, and it has permutations and combinations of almost infinite variety. A senior wrangler would have great difficulty in unravelling some of them. Thousands of officers and men are engaged day by day and possibly night by night, in the War Office in the various paymasters' offices and in regimental and company offices, as well as in the Department of the right hon. Gentleman, in wrestling with the situation which has resulted from the way in which the Service Departments have dealt in the past with these great human questions upon which our lives and fortunes may depend. The truth is that throughout the Service Departments have been trying to run the Services, and particularly the Army, on the cheap.
Now, instead of being presented with a straighforward scheme, we have another piece of patchwork. I do not say this as a reflection upon the right hon. Gentleman. It is the fourth such scheme which has been offered to us since the war began, and the second or third since the present Government came into office, and it is put forward to satisfy a very pressing demand which has given rise to a good deal of discontent of a substantial character. The proposal is to effect an enormous extension of the activities of the War Service Grants Committee. The Committee will reassess the position in regard to pay and allowances of almost every man and woman in His Majesty's Forces, and will supplement those payments on the basis of providing a minimum standard of maintenance. Firstly an amount in respect of reasonable commitments will be put on one side. Incidentally I always think the word "reasonable" in a White Paper, as in a legal document, a very ambiguous one.
My hon. and gallant Friend must not forget "etc.," which makes the position quite clear.
§ Major Milner
Then, as I understand it, that figure will be deducted, for purposes of calculation, from the allowance paid to the dependant, and a sum will then be added to the resultant balance, so as to leave that dependant with full commitments paid and a surplus of 16s., in the case of an adult, and 8s. in the case of a child of school age. That is the final figure which will be available to pay for food, clothing, household requirements, recreation and all the other necessities ox the house and family. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that over and above school age the adult rate would be paid—a very necessary thing.
Then the necessity for not going above the pre-Service standard will be done away with, and the maximum will be increased to £3. Grants, by way of supplementation in respect of serious and prolonged illness, will be available up to a sum of £10. It may be that many people pay their doctor when he sends his bill in respect of a particular illness, but I am sure that the great majority of the working people pay so much a week. The right hon. Gentleman should give his attention to this aspect of the matter. Doctors are not paid by the working class so much per illness, and the formula in the White Paper ought to be altered in this respect so as to cover periodical payments if possible in all cases without restriction. There is a further concession in respect of proficiency and promotion pay. Then there is the question of the solely dependent parent or parents. The White Paper says "parent." but I understand the word should be "parents." These are also to have the benefit of the arrangement regarding a unit figure. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will direct his special attention to this particular matter, which is an important one and a frequent source of difficulty. All these provisions in the White Paper make a patchwork and partial improvement but are subject to too many "buts," too many "mays" and not enough "wills"; but they will undoubtedly result in substantial improvement in hard cases.
But what will the scheme involve? Every Service man or his wife will have to fill up forms, and in every case there will have to be an investigation. This will be carried out by an Assistance 1547 Board officer, in the case of the men, and by gentlemen specially appointed, in the case of officers. That is an invidious distinction between officers and rankers which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do his best to remove.
§ Captain Duncan (Kensington, North)
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman explain the arrangements which the Ministry of Pensions are making for investigation, and which will give rise to the distinction between officers and men?
§ Major Milner
I understand that in every case there will be an investigation by Assistance Board officers for men in the ranks, who will go and check the particulars which appear on the men's forms. I understand that in the case of officers it is not a matter for the Assistance Board investigator, but for some specially appointed inquiry officer from the Minister's Department.
§ Mr. Molson (High Peak)
May I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman where he got that information from?
§ Major Milner
The Minister is here to speak for himself. That system is in force at present. It has been running for years. Your scheme is going to involve a fresh form to fill in for every change of circumstances, and probably again every six months or so, when again the same visit from the investigating officer will take place. This will be almost a continuous process throughout the years, of form-filling, investigating, checking-up and assessing, throughout the whole time that men and women are serving in the Forces—an intolerable burden. How many men and women are there in our Armed Forces? I do not know. But I will take what is probably a very moderate figure indeed, say, 2,500,000. In two and a half years the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with, up to date, 300,000 cases, and under the existing system he is getting new cases in at the rate of 20,000 a week. Yet he proposes to assume this great additional responsibility of dealing with another 2,000,000 or 2,500,000. Think of the position of all these soldiers and their womenfolk filling in the eternal form. And, of course, my right hon. Friend will not think I am referring to him when I say that it is ridiculous and absurd on the part of the Post Office to say that they 1548 cannot have a stock of those forms at the back of the counter or that some other Government office should not have them instead of the U.A.B. Which of my hon. and gallant Friends in this House, if he puts in a claim, as he may well do, because it will be a common form in the future, is going to send or go to the Assistance Board to get a form? The form ought clearly to be available elsewhere.
Think of the visits that will be made by these investigating officers; think of the process of checking and assessing, the amount of paper that will be used, the tremendous staff that will be required under this scheme. And when all is done there will still be differentiation, discrepancy, inequality and continued dissatisfaction. The single man with no dependants will still have 17s. 6d. for himself, while the married man, perhaps twice the single man's age or old enough to be his father, will have only 10s. 6d., while serving alongside him, because from his 17s. 6d. he will have to make an allotment of 7s. to his wife. The munition worker or civilian worker will still be far better paid and his family better fed and clothed than the soldier's wife and family can hope to be. And still there will be men from Canada, Australia and New Zealand fighting alongside our men but drawing twice and in some cases three times as much.
Further, in my submission, this scheme may have—I use the word "may" advisedly—quite disastrous social effects. The best of our manhood and womanhood are in the Forces; they will become what I term without offence dole-minded and spend a large proportion of their time billing up forms on which will depend the amount they will draw from the public purse. Is it really worth while to embark upon this grandiose scheme? What are we really seeking to do? What is, or what should be, our object? This war may and probably will last some years. We must take a long-term view. Surely oar object should be to pay an adequate and sufficient wage to our fighting men and the women in the Services and to pay an adequate and sufficient dependants' allowance to their nearest and dearest. There will then be fair payment for services rendered and the dependants will be able to keep up a decent standard of 1549 life and the serving men will have peace of mind and there will be at any rate some semblance of equity as between the soldier and the civilian worker.
The House may ask how it is to be done. In my personal opinion, it should be done without all this paraphernalia by paying a proper sum by way of pay and allowances respectively, without any form-filling, means test, or inquisition of the nature that has been indicated. Many of us on this side of the House believe, and I myself believe, that the right course is to do away with allotments altogether. They are an anachronism and were intended for entirely different circumstances. We should do away with compulsory allotments altogether, although a man should be allowed to make a voluntary allotment. We should do away with all these questions of employers' subventions which are largely paid by the Government in the last resort. At any rate they should not be taken into account, as of course they will be taken into account under this scheme. Further, we should pay what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour calls "the rate for the job". What should that rate be? That is a very difficult question, in regard to which, particularly in the present circumstances of financial difficulty, there may be a variety of opinions.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of having taken advice; he will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that he is probably working on the British Medical Association scale. My hon. Friends who are members if the medical profession will be able to fell the House the precise position, but I believe that this is little if any more than a bare subsistence scale. Now my scale is also an absolute minimum. I would suggest that every man should receive for himself 17s. 6d., which is the amount a single man receives for himself at present. If there were no allotments that would have the effect of putting the married man and the single man on the same basis. Then I would pay a minimum of 30s. to the wife and a minimum of 10s. for each child. If J had ray own way, I would make the children's allowance more still, even 15s., because I think that that is where an increase ought to be made, to the woman with young children. In passing, I may remark that the Trades Union Congress asked for 40s. for the wife and that the Government already pay 10s. 6d. for the billeting of one child.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
Did the hon. and gallant Gentleman also notice that the Trades Union Congress advocated an increase of the basic rate to 3s. per day?
§ Major Milner
Yes, they did, and let me say quite frankly that the Trades Union Congress figures would be a proper rate in normal circumstances and should even be increased in regard to children. We are not, however, working in normal circumstances now. Over and above what I have suggested, there should still be the War Service Grants Committee as at present. It should, however, operate on a much more generous basis, with its powers largely extended along the line put forward by the right hon. Gentleman. But having regard to the effect of these substantial increases in the basic allowances, I submit that that committee would then have comparatively few cases to deal with and that far less labour, less paper and less investigation would be involved. The great majority of serving soldiers and their relatives world know exactly where they were, but special problems of hardship would be dealt with but would be kept within quite small dimensions.
I do not want to take up too long a time, and I do want to put forward one or two comparative figures, to show how the scales compare—the present scale, the Government's new scale and the suggestion of a flat-rate increase which I have made. Take the case of a wife and two children. At present the wife would receive for herself and them 38s. a week. Assume that her commitments are £1 per week, the figure given by the right hon. Gentleman in the example he gave. When she has put on one side £1 for her commitments she has only the sum of 18s. on which to keep herself and the two children, a scandalously low figure, in my submission. I notice that we now have present a representative of the War Office and a representative of the Admiralty, and I hope they will take note of what I say—a scandalously low figure. Under the new scale, instead of having 38s. a week, a wife with two children would receive £2 12s. She would put on one side £1 in respect of fixed commitments and would then have £1 12s. on which to keep herself and the children instead of 18s., a very substantial increase of 14s. Under the suggestion I 1551 have made which, I would remind the House, does not involve any allotment from the husband and is still an absolute minimum, the wife would have £2 10s., and, after payment of fixed commitments, would be left with £1 10s., or 2s. less than the right hon. Gentleman's scheme. But the husband is making no compulsory allotment. If that allotment was continued or if he cares to make a voluntary allotment, as most of them would wish to do, and made the usual allotment of 7s., then his wife and children would be 5s. better off per week than under the Government's scheme. I could give similar comparisons in other cases, but I will forbear. In my submission it would be clearly an advantage to make a direct straightforward payment to the man for his work, and a direct and sufficient allowance to the wife for the upkeep of herself and the two children. That, in my view, is the way to deal with the situation.
In the moment or two longer for which I propose to detain the House I would like to answer the contentions which the right hon. Gentleman has put forward and which no doubt he or the Parliamentary Secretary will put forward again when replying to this Debate. What will the Government's answer be to the suggestion I have made? They will say that the scheme would cost too much. The Government wish, quite rightly, to give the relief where it is most needed. They will also say that they do not want to give any more to the childless wife who can go out to work. I say that we cannot stagger on as we are doing bringing every six or nine months patchwork schemes of this sort in our present situation. There is no more fruitful ground for discontent and unrest than this kind of thing. I say further that the cost of a proper wage for the man and proper allowances for his wife and family has got to be met, and that adequate and sufficient pay to the soldier, and the provision of an adequate and sufficient allowance to his dependants without any means test, should be the first charge on our finances. With regard to the childless wife, if we want her to go to work let us direct her to do so and not compel her to do so by giving her a sum on which she cannot exist, and which is insufficient to keep her in decency unless she goes to work. There are many 1552 other points with which I have not dealt. The White Paper is really very vague and unsatisfactory in its language, and I hope other Members will deal with some of the many points which I have omitted and which require to be cleared up.
Finally, the question is, What course are we to adopt in present circumstances? The Government have presented this White Paper to the House. If times were normal I should wholeheartedly oppose it. It has only one virtue; it establishes a minimum standard, but it will also bring about a nation of dole-minded people. But, as I have said, times are not normal. We have to pull together in the common cause. The White Paper is a great improvement on the present situation, but merely, I would emphasise, because the present situation is so scandalously bad to begin with—for no other reason. Again we cannot afford delay, and we cannot indulge in undue argument on an issue like this. At the same time I desire to make it clear that I am frankly dissatisfied with the proposed scheme and its underlying spirit. But this is no doubt the first of many occasions on which we shall discuss this subject. In present circumstances, and in the hope that the Government will consider what has been said in this House and elsewhere, I am prepared, for myself— and I hope my hon. Friends will take the same view—to accept the scheme as an interim one and to give it a trial. But I hope that the Government will see their way to examine this whole question with a view to a complete change in their attitude to what is an extremely serious and important matter, for it is a matter which very closely affects the homes and fortunes of our country and people.
§ Mr. Crowder (Finchley)
May I thank the Government for giving us an opportunity of discussing this most important matter of pay and allowances of the men in the Services? I congratulate the Minister of Pensions on having been able to get the necessary concession from the Treasury so that he could put forward this White Paper, which, I am sure, as the last speaker has just said, will help a good deal in regard to the many hard cases. But unless he is able to speed up the machinery, I feel that we shall not be so much better off in the long run. First, I should like to deal with the question of the pay of the lowest-paid man in the 1553 Army, which, as Members know, is 2s. a day plus 6d. a day war pay—that is, 17s. 6d. a week. I do not wish to deal with the basic pay but with what a man actually receives at the pay table on Friday. A single man probably receives about 15s. a week in cash, because 6d. is generally deducted for barrack damages, and up to now in many units 2s. or 2S. 6d. has been kept as a reserve to enable the man to buy a railway ticket for leave for which free warrants have not been issued.
I am very glad that the Minister of Pensions has, at last, after so many months, been able to get the Treasury to agree to issue four free warrants, because now the men will be better off by at least 2s. or 2s. 6d. a week. When we come to the married man, he has his allotment to make of 7s. a week, so that he probably only draws 8s. a week at the pay table, which, I think Members will agree, is not sufficient. Now he may get 10s. with the four free railway warrants. I deprecate this large difference between single and married men. I am not prepared to go quite as far as the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), but I have another scheme to put forward. There is considerable variation, of course, in what a man requires for himself. It depends to a large extent on where he is quartered. If he is in a big town his needs are different from what they would be if he were in an out-of-the-way post in the country. But, broadly speaking, I suggest that the lowest-paid soldier should have 14s. or 15s. to put in his pocket every week, whether he is married or single. I think that hon. Members will agree that the bare minimum expenditure for incidentals like stamps, blanco, soap, polish, razor blades and matches, when he can get them, comes to about 1s. 9d. a week.
§ Mr. Molson
Since the hon. Member is making a point about the actual pay received, will he bear in mind that each soldier receives 3d. a day for each completed year of service?
§ Mr. Crowder
Yes, that is so; but I said "the lowest-paid soldier"—not one receiving proficiency pay. My suggestion is that this could be improved if the Government would increase the allowance to the wife by 7s. a week. At present the soldier's wife with no children gets 18s. a week plus the 7s. qualifying allotment 1554 from the soldier. Under my proposal, the wife would receive 28s. 6d. a week in all—25s. from the Government and only 3s. 6d. from the man. A similar reduction, I suggest, should take place in the qualifying allotment when the man has his pay increased on being promoted. My suggestion is that the qualifying allotment of all N.C.O.'s and men should be reduced by 3s. 6d. a week, and the allowance from the Government to the wife should be increased by 7s. a week. I am glad that the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Molson) made the point about the proficiency pay. The whole of that amount is now taken by the Government and given to the wife. I think perhaps half of it should be given to the wife, but certainly some of it should be allowed to stay in the man's own pocket.
If the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that he cannot find this extra money for the men in the Services without resorting to inflation, my answer is that the Government should tackle the whole question of wages, bonuses, overtime, danger money and the like, especially to unskilled workers. The Minister of Labour seems unwilling to tackle this question, although cases have been brought to his notice on several occasions. In a recent speech he said that he did not mind what the workers earned so long as they are producing the goods. I know what he meant, but you can hardly expect the Service man to accept such a statement. He says, "Where do we come in? We are risking our lives on active service." With practically every necessity rationed, through the coupon system, I do not see why inflation should occur on a large scale. In any case, I do not see why Service men should suffer because so much money is being poured out, some of it extravagantly, on Government work. Cannot the Minister of Labour and the Chancellor of the Exchequer get together, agree upon what they can afford, pool our resources and then make a more equitable distribution as between the Service man and the skilled and the unskilled civilian. Only last week the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) stated that there are many cases of men doing unskilled work earning more than skilled men in the same factories. The hon. Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland) also alluded last week to cases of gross extravagance. It seems extraordinary that the Treasury have voluntarily agreed 1555 to make up the pay of civil servants who join the Services. Obviously, they think the War Office scales are too low. If one Government Department does not agree with another, it is time for some further inquiry into the question.
I would ask the Government to have a discussion with the Dominion Governments on how they pay their men. They will find that both married and single are paid the same amount—they get between 19 and 20 dollars a month—and then there is another 20 dollars which the man may allot to his wife or other dependant. If he has no dependant this money is kept for him until after the war. I do not say that we can go as far as that—exchange and other difficulties arise—but the Government should consult with the Dominion Governments and find out how their schemes are worked. I submit that the Pay Branch of the War Office requires reorganisation. At present it is trying to work a peace-time system, in spite of the fact that there are now hundreds of thousands more men in the Army. This practice of the regimental paymaster notifying the unit that a man is overdrawn or in debt, sometimes for a large sum, is. unfair, especially as a man has often no idea of how the debt was incurred. I suggest that a staff officer of the Pay Corps should be attached to every corps, division or area with power to deal with such cases. When a debtor balance has arisen, through no fault of the soldier, the paymaster should, as a rule, write off the debt at his own discretion. Only last week I was told by a constituent of a man who had been overpaid 2s. a day early in 1940. Now he is £20 in debt, through no fault of his own. I hope the War Office will try to meet some of these grievances and hardships. If a private employer overpaid his men and then told them three months after that they were £20 in debt, their union would have something to say about it. But the soldier has to accept an immediate reduction in pay, and sometimes has to wait for months before a final adjustment is made.
As a representative of the War Office is present, I ask him to go into the question of unpaid acting N.C.O.s. In many training regiments holding battalions I believe, although the intake of men has increased, the number of N.C.O.s on the 1556 establishment has not been altered in any way. As a result, hundreds of men in this country are doing the work and taking the extra responsibility of N.C.O.s, but are not getting the extra pay. This matter has been brought up on many occasions, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the War Office will see what can be done. I do not think that hon. Members are satisfied with the improvements in pay and allowances for married officers under 30. Unless something is done to help them further, the War Office, I think, will have great difficulty in getting such men to take commissions.
I will not go into all the complications of dependants' allowances. In this connection I am not referring to wives but to widowed mothers and other dependants, and I would like to put forward to the War Office and the Treasury that, provided a soldier was substantially maintaining a dependant before the war, the Government should give the same grant as that given to the wife, plus the man's qualifying allotment. Dependants should be treated in the same way as wives as regards the Government allowance. The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken suggested something on these lines. There are many widows in this country who lost their husbands in the last war and who have sons serving in this war, and they have been living, or trying to exist, some of them in my constituency, below the poverty line. I think that they will be in a better position now that the Minister of Pensions has issued his new regulations. I know that they can go before the hardship committees, but I suggest that they ought to be treated in the same way as wives and not have to fill up all sorts of forms.
Generally speaking, some degree of elasticity should be permitted to the various branches concerned with pay and allowances. At present there can be no departure from the strict letter of the regulations. There are many border-line cases, and some are treated unfairly through the rigidity of the regulations. I would like to add a few sentences about the War Service Grants Committee. The London Council for Social Service recently informed me that in reviewing some thousands of cases, the indication throughout all the investigations was that the special grant did not permit dependants to 1557 live above the poverty-line, and reports from welfare centres confirmed the fact that under-nourishment was frequently being suffered by the wives and children of men in the Forces. I have heard it said that wives would have been better off under public assistance. I feel sure that now my right hon. Friend has this matter in hand he will see that it does not occur in the future.
As regards the machinery of the working of the War Service Grants Committee, I understand that the Assistance Board's officers make preliminary investigations for that Committee. These men are well accustomed to estimating the cost of living and so forth in a family. I suggest that they should not only set forth facts in each individual case but should put forward recommendations to the Committee as to the amount of grant needed to enable the family to live upon a decent scale. I suggest also that before any financial deduction or change is made in the war service grant through a man being promoted or through some other cause, such as the wife or mother removing to cheaper premises, another investigation should be made by the Board's officers, who should act as liaison officers between the Committee and the family. What happens now is that a reduction is made and a Member of Parliament has to find out the reason why, and a lot of unnecessary correspondence takes place. If the Board's officer would explain the position to a wife, I feel that a lot of trouble would be avoided. I hope that the Government will seriously consider the suggestions which have been made by the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds and myself, because they must act quickly now with the winter coming on. We have been—and I think all Members will agree—very patient with regard to this question of pay and allowances, and we really cannot be put off any longer with delays. There is the question of field allowances, which was raised last April. We are told it is still under consideration, and I hope that the War Office will get the Treasury to make up their minds and come to some decision.
In conclusion, I suggest that there are four points which we should bear in mind when discussing this very important problem of pay and allowances. Many of the men in the Services have given up 1558 good wages and good positions. They read constantly in the Press of cases of astronomical wages being paid in industry sometimes to boys of 19. They have not forgotten that after the last war it was said that these inequalities would not occur again, and yet they see them on every side. The Service man is prepared to give his life, and he will cheerfully undergo any hardship provided he knows that his wife and family are all right and he has a certain amount of money in his pocket to enjoy a little relaxation when that is possible at the cinema or in the NAAFI, or to be able to buy a pint of beer which is now double in price. It is up to us in Parliament to put the case of the ex-Service man to the Government whenever an opportunity like this occurs, because he cannot write to the Press and take up the matter himself. It is our duty to do it, difficult though it may be. In all sincerity, I suggest that these cases are not few in number, and I hope that the Government will respond and do something on the lines I have suggested. As a party, we have always supported the Service Ministers when they have asked for larger and larger Estimates, because we have realised that a well-equipped, well-trained, contented and fairly paid Army was essential for our existence. I ask them now to realise that the position in some cases, especially for the lowest-paid men, is serious and to face up to the position which has never, in my opinion, been more unjust than it is today.
§ Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)
As there is a large number of speakers on this subject, I shall detain the House for only a short time. I have done my utmost to try to estimate the value of this White Paper to the men who are in the Services and their dependants. It is true that we have moved a considerable distance with regard to the improvements that have been attempted since, on behalf of my party, I initiated the first Debate on this subject in the House about 18 months ago. The position then was scandalous, but I am by no means satisfied with the present suggestions. My chief objection is that we are not approaching the problem from the right angle. The party with which I have been associated almost from its inception have always been opposed to what we call the method of charity organisation. It appears to me that whoever 1559 is responsible for these proposals has approached the problem in exactly the same spirit as though we were to hand out charity to the wives and the dependants of the serving men. None of us for a moment can entertain that point of view. Serving men and their dependants are entitled to a square deal, to the best that this country can give them.
When we contrast the position of this country with that of the Dominions, our methods of approach and offers of reward for services are simply parsimonious. There is no reason why it should be so. We are an older nation, with far greater resources to draw upon. So I hope no one will argue to-day that we are bound to pledge ourselves to the principles outlined in this White Paper because we are unable to afford anything better. I want to put this point. We have at the moment a differentiation between single men and married men. The basic allowance is 17s. 6d. per week from which is taken 7s. for allotment for the wife of the married man. Any man in barracks will tell you that it is not an uncommon thing for men to have to supplement their rations from their own purse. A single man can afford to do so, but consider the position of the married man. He is put at a considerable disadvantage. Here I want to stress the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) when he suggested that there should be no differentiation between a married man and a single man, in so far as allotment should not be taken from his basic wage but should be made good by the Government.
The next point I want to make is this. Consider for a moment the cost of the machinery that will have to be set up in order to conduct the investigation that is essential as the result of the White Paper's principles. I know of nothing more abhorrent to the average working-class wife than that an inspector should have to visit her house for the purpose of making an investigation. We want to carry the confidence of the whole nation with us throughout this conflict, but these proposals are not likely to enable us to retain the confidence of the wives of serving men. It would be preferable—and I see no reason why it could not be done— to fix a decent basic rate for the wife and 1560 dependants and dispense with all these investigations. I do not mind whether you accept a standard fixed by the British Medical Association, or some other standard, but let it be a standard that will guarantee a reasonable minimum By that means you could dispense with all this investigation, retain the confidence of the wives of our serving men, and, what is more important, put those who would be engaged in investigating these cases to work which would be far more economical from the point of view of the national interest at the present time. Remember this. One investigation will not suffice; investigations will have to be carried out at probably six monthly or 12 monthly periods. At any rate, they will have to be periodically carried out. Look at the labour entailed; it is a waste.
I hope these proposals will be reconsidered. Speaking candidly, were I in a position to vote against this new scheme in the House to-day I would do so in spite of it Being an improvement on the previous scheme. The scheme, as I have said, approaches the problem from the wrong angle and I am not interested at any time in voting for more of these investigations. The sooner we get rid of them the better. Whenever it comes to a question of wages or grants to members of the working class, the case has to be investigated, but if it happens to be a question of subsidies or grants for other sections of the community no investigations are necessary. It is entirely wrong and I hope those responsible for the scheme will reconsider it and give us a flat-rate, as has been suggested by the Trades Union Congress. They considered this subject for a long time and passed a resolution about it at their last meeting in Edinburgh. They are far more representative of Service men in many ways than some of us can claim to be. The majority of the T.U.C. representatives have sons in the Services and know what is happening in the homes of their sons. Therefore, I appeal to the Government, once again, to reconsider this scheme before it is enforced and put into operation.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
I intervene for a few moments in this Debate to voice a view which is, I believe, widely shared by serving officers and men. I must confess that the issue 1561 of this White Paper, which some hon. Members may think has taken the sting out of this Debate and has silenced the clamour for better conditions of payment to members of our Forces, has, for me, only replaced that sting with a sharper barb and raised that clamour to a new pitch. To my mind the right hon. Gentleman has won a Pyrrhic victory. This White Paper is as unimaginative in its proposals as it is flimsy in texture. One gets the impression that the Service Departments and the Ministry of Pensions have fought with the Treasury for weeks, and have produced what? The poorest form of mouse, a grain of the coldest comfort. What is the background against which this problem has been considered? One of relieving hardship, of meeting want, of providing for an emergency. At the direction of the Treasury and I presume with the approval of this House, whole sections of our Fighting Services and their dependants are kept at what is practically subsistence level until, in response to an expression of public opinion, these concessions—and costive concessions they are, too—are produced. Do we raise the morale of our Fighting Services by proceeding on these principles? Assuredly we do not.
I would like to put a question to the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the Debate. Do these financial arrangements proceed from pre-war conceptions of limiting Service Department votes, of economising in expenditure in order to balance budgets, or do they result from decisions on high policy turning upon the wisdom or the unwisdom of members of the Forces having so much or so little money in their pockets? If the former, which I fear may be the case, it is a wholly ridiculous situation when you consider how and where money is flowing in other directions, and it represents an outworn technique which ought immediately to be abolished. If the latter, then at least we are in the right field and can debate the real issues. Within that framework, what ought we to do? We ought so to contrive that at the conclusion of this war a man or woman on demobilisation will, within a short space of time, be able to realise a capital sum with which to start again in civil life. Such a sum should be no less than that which is to-day being set aside week by week by those earning large sums in industry. By a system of deferred pay, scaled according 1562 to rank, we ought to be able to achieve this.
We speak of total war and total sacrifice. Ought we not also to speak of total opportunity and total reward? As we are moving at present, we are not only—and this White Paper goes only a little way towards removing it—perpetuating a state of present grievance, but also creating a cause of future discontent. I do not complain of the wages which are being earned in industry, not of the growth of the numbers of skilled workers and the position which they are establishing for themselves in industry, a position which will run on into the peace. Nor, indeed, do I complain of the standard of living enjoyed by serving men themselves. But I do protest against the present status of their families in comparison with those of industrial workers, and I fear for the future prospects of these men who, with no financial background, will, unless something is done, be compelled to compete for jobs one day with their brothers and cousins who are not only more highly skilled and fixed firmly in the saddle, but also have capital saved as well. Therefore, I beg the right hon. Gentleman and the Government to consider this problem most carefully, if they, have not already done so, and to let it be reflected shortly in another White Paper from a more inspired source and of happier effect.
§ Mr. Burke (Burnley)
This is a rationed Debate and I propose to keep very strictly to the period of about ten minutes which has been generally agreed to among hon. Members on this side of the House. All the speeches we have heard have been very critical of the White Paper, and have reflected the feelings which have for many months past found expression on all sides of the House in complaints about the inadequate pay of the soldier and the inadequate allowances to his dependants. That feeling has been very widespread throughout the country. The White Paper does not meet in any shape or form the needs of these people. After all, according to the Minister's statement—and the Parliamentary Secretary will correct me if I am wrong—about 350,000 persons have applied to the War Service Grants Committee, and it is expected that a further £6,000,000 will be spent on those 350,000 persons. The Minister went on to say that a further sum of £2,000,000 will go to the extra people who may come 1563 under the new scheme. This means that the right hon. Gentleman does not expect very many more people to come within the scheme, and if not many more come within the scheme, then the scheme will not have very widespread effects. On the other hand, if many more persons come within the scheme, as I suggest they will attempt to do, it will mean only a further £8,000,000. There is already being expended £5,500,000, and £8,000,000 more is to be expended. This is to meet the requirements of—one cannot give the number of men in the Services, but it is not a question of thousands or hundreds of thousands, but of millions. What does the expenditure of £8,000,000 more on them mean? Perhaps it means 10s. a year for a soldier and his family. That is not by any means enough to meet the case of the very lowly-paid dependants of soldiers and the very inadequately-paid soldiers themselves.
As to the method, it is just a continuation of the arrangements made with regard to supplementary old age pensions, where there was a scheme somewhat similar to this one, which was accepted by the House on trial, but which, I suggest, has not given the satisfaction which the House thought it would give. Nor will this scheme give the satisfaction which the Minister has led us to suppose it will give. The Minister spoke about a minimum figure of 16s. a week. With the working classes it is always a question of a minimum figure, a fodder basis, just as when the trade unions were kept down to the cost-of-living figure. There is no chance of the working classes having a little more; it is a question of keeping them one-sixteenth of an inch this side of starvation. That kind of arrangement is not good enough. Why should there always be this inquiry? Why not come forward with a scheme on the basis that the soldier is doing a job of work, and that even if he is in this country, he has a very difficult time.
I may say, in passing, that something will have to be done for the soldiers in this country during the coming dark and difficult winter, because many of them are getting "fed up," and that sort of thing will not help to improve their morale. Something must be done in the way of entertainment and of making them feel that they are much better thought of 1564 than this White Paper suggests. Here is a proposal to inquire into all the needs of the household. Of course it is true that something is going to be done for those who are very badly in need. That is to say, that if they owe the landlord some money the landlord will be paid, and if they need a doctor the doctor will be paid. A very bad arrangement, it seems to me, because if you have four visits to the doctor at 5s. and five at 3s. 6d., that is £1 17s. 6d., and you can pay it. But obviously people will say to the doctor, "Come again and make it £2 is.," and then the Ministry will have to pay it. There are all these mathematical calculations in order to save a few shillings. The landlord will be paid, the doctor will be paid and, if there is a death in the family, the undertaker will be paid. The Government have produced a scheme, not for the benefit of the soldier and his dependants, but for the benefit of the landlords, the medical profession and the undertakers.
The machinery is costly and complicated. I should like to ask how much per pound of distributed money it costs to run this machine, with all the help from the public assistance officers and so on. If you were to cut out all this red tape and machinery you could put another 3s. in the £ on the dependants' pay straight away. It is costly and it will be very slow. The White Paper says it will begin on 1st November, but very few people will get their money during November or possibly during December. I hope, when the Minister broadcasts, he will make it clear, in order to avoid disappointment, that while the scheme is alleged to begin on 1st November applicants must not expect any money, perhaps in the main, until the New Year, because the machinery will grind very slowly. While this proposal may be of some benefit in the poorest and the worst cases I should like the Government to take it back. While we are thankful for small mercies, this is by no means an alternative to the right thing and it is not what the House has been expecting for months during which we have been looking forward to this Debate. What we want is a flat rate increase and an improvement in the soldier's pay commensurate with the sacrifice that he is making, and a flat rate increase also on the money paid to dependants, not only the Wives but the mothers, and particularly the widowed mothers, 1565 who are suffering a great deal from the loss of the earnings of their sons. I hope the Government will reconsider it and give us a very much more adequate scheme and one which will substantially meet the kind of sacrifices which the soldier and his dependants are making.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Barnstaple)
I may have been out of the House when it was done, but I have not heard anyone give the Government an out-and-out word of thanks for the four free travelling warrants instead of two. I think our thanks are due to the Government for this concession. It will make a very great difference and we are very grateful for it. But, for the rest, I am sorry to say that I have to join in the almost wholly critical tone of the other speeches that have been made. I understand that now 20,000 applications are being received for hardship payments per week. They are being dealt with after an average delay of some five weeks, which is very bad. In the case of a new recruit it will probably be a week before he gets his form sent in, and it will be anything up to six weeks after he has joined before any payment is made. I think there will be 1,500,000 applicants during November. That is an estimate. The Government must know how many men there are in the Army. Deduct from that figure the 350,000 who are receiving benefit and will not have to apply, knock off 10 per cent., and that will give the number of applications which will be made.
The Ministry is dealing with 20,000 per week with its present staff and, I understand, by making considerable calls upon the services of the Ministry of Labour and National Service for the actual investigations on the spot. These 20,000 new applications per week will still go on because of the weekly call-up of new men. If the Ministry doubles its staff and doubles the demands made upon the personnel of the Ministry of Labour—an objectionable thing at a time when the Ministry of Labour should be tackling tasks which, from the point of view of war production, are much more urgent—it will be 75 weeks before these claims are sorted out. So that the average time a man will have to wait for his answer is 37 weeks. If that is too long a period to wait, and if, therefore, the Ministry quadruples its staff and quadruples the demands made on the Ministry 1566 of Labour, it will then be 37 weeks before the claims are sorted out and the average which a man will have to wait will be 18½ weeks.
I have a suggestion which, I think, will in some way mitigate this disaster if taken up by the War Office with real vigour and determination. The applications should be dealt with by the officers of every unit and no excuses of any sort should be taken. I believe that the application forms could be redrafted in such a way that the very filling up of them would provide the Ministry with the answers they want, assuming they were filled up truthfully and accurately by men who understood what they were asked and what information was being asked for. I would advise the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Pensions combined to call up either from their staffs, or from school-masters skilled in instructing in the art of mathematics, or from solicitors skilled, in handling the Rent Restrictions Acts and that kind of thing, a corps of instructors who should devise with the Ministry of Pensions a form which will provide the right answers and see that they are instructed in all the twists and turns that might arise. I should give them a week's course of instruction. When trained, I would send these people out to the area commands and assemble officers from the units who would receive instruction from them. If the officers are taken from a regiment they should be sent round to the batteries on particular days to fill up these forms under instructions from men who themselves had been instructed. When the forms have been received the Ministry should pay at once and investigate afterwards. There should, of course, be some stringent penalty for any deliberate falsification. This is not a small undertaking and will mean a great deal of work. The alternative is either an imposition of the work on to the staff of the Ministry of Labour, which it would be criminal to impose at this moment, or endless delay. I hope that the proposal will be seriously considered by the Government.
With reference to the speech of the Noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Lord Hinchingbrooke) and the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Crowder) and this comparison of the soldier's wage with the wage of other workers, why should 1567 the comparison be made with the wage of other workers and not with the wage of other people? We have had this many, times from the benches opposite, on which, I would say at a guess, the average net spendable income must be well over £2 a day. We have had the comparison made between the soldier and the man whose wages are £5, or £6 or £7 a week. May we in future have the proper comparison between the soldier and the man whose net spendable income is over £2 a day? That is the point that has to be tackled before we can begin an evening out of rewards between those in the Services and those working in the factories.
§ Mr. Raikes (Essex, South-Eastern)
I rise, with a good deal of diffidence to address the House, but I can claim that my work has lain very largely on what might be described as the discipline side in the Air Force and I have had the opportunity of seeing where the shoe pinches among the men. I am obliged to agree with the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) that this scheme is a patchwork scheme. It will give help, undoubtedly, to a good many working mothers, but you will never properly face the problem of the man in the Services and his wife and dependants unless you are prepared to consider certain real amendments of the regulations in the Services themselves rather than what I should describe as a form of hardship committee.
A moment ago the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) said that hon. Members opposite were always drawing a comparison between the wages and allowances of the men in the Forces and the earnings of workers in industry, and asked why the comparison was with workers in industry and not with other people. Time and time ago I have found that the great grievance in the Services is this: A man has left his work and joined up, and his wife is left at home living next door to people enjoying much the same standard of life as they themselves used to enjoy; but the man next door is in a reserved occupation and remains at his work, and when bonuses arrive owing to the increase in the cost of living his wages increase— and I am making no attack upon that— whereas the soldier's wife finds her allow- 1568 ance failing to maintain her at the same standard as she had when the cost of living was lower and her husband was working at his occupation. That woman is constantly feeling the pinch. While the conditions of the workers in industry are constantly improving her own conditions remain much as they were. That is the comparison which is drawn and it is not drawn by myself or anybody else because we desire to raise any class questions at a time when all classes should stand together.
I know that it is not a matter for the Ministry of Pensions, but I think that two things, at any rate, might be done with regard to allowances, quite apart from this new scheme. One thing I am glad to note is that the scheme, in so far as it deals with the unit of the family, treats every child equally, that is to say each child is reckoned as a half unit, and there is no differentiation between the first and the second child, a distinction which ought to be struck out of the ordinary family allowances scale. Further, unless and until industry can get together with the Services to try to avoid these over-invidious comparisons in pay, we cannot entirely bridge the gulf, but until that gulf is bridged we shall find discontent in every section of the Armed Forces. It is not so much that the men themselves feel discontent; that arises, from the letters from the ''missus" coining week after week telling them what is happening. A man in the Services sees his wife probably only once in three months, and what she is telling him weighs on his mind, and to that extent tends to make him a less efficient soldier, and that at a time when we have never had a greater need for efficiency in our Services, at a time when, may be, we shall have to face a greater crisis than we have passed through up to the present time.
I must say one word in regard to young officers. There has always been a tendency, which still exists but ought not to exist, to assume that because a young man is an officer he is in possession of private means; but we are now giving commissions to young men irrespective of their background. The ordinary service allowance for the wives of the men is sent automatically but the officers consolidated allowance is sent to him, and if he wants to keep all of it he can do so, unless his wife goes to a police court and complains.
§ Mr. Raikes
If the wife complains that she is not being maintained, the officer's consolidated allowance is stopped at that stage; but unless direct complaint is made, to the very top, the wife of a man gets her allowance automatically. I do not think the differentiation is fair. Some day the Services will have to face the fact that family allowances have come to stay and cannot be confined to one class. We give the young officer the same consolidation whether he has no children to maintain or has six children. The young officer who has a wife and two or three children is in a pretty difficult position in keeping his household going at all. If he brings his wife as near as possible to where he is stationed, he probably finds that prices are exceedingly high. There is a great deal of profiteering going on in such cases. He keeps her upon a consolidated allowance of 7s. 6d. a day. Beyond that, if he is a keen officer, he has other expenses. He has to pay his mess accommodation as well. Before the war is over, family allowances must cover the case of the officer without means as it does the case of the man in the ranks
As the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the War Office is present, I would like to call his attention to an anomaly which was brought to my notice only a few days ago. If an officer in the R.A.F. should marry a W.A.A.F., and the parties are separated owing to the exigencies of the Service, the officer is entitled to draw an allowance for her— properly, I think. If, on the other hand, he should marry a member of the A.T.S., and she is separated from him as a result of his work, he fails to get a family allowance for her. I am bound to say that that is a distinction which is most uncomplimentary to the charming ladies with whom the War Office has to deal. But, leaving that point where it stands, I would simply say, in conclusion, that like other Members of this House I believe that our success in this struggle depends very largely upon the ordinary men and women serving in the Forces believing that they have got a square deal. The enemy does look after his own services. Let us take a leaf out of his book and be a little more generous than the scheme put forward to-day.
§ Mr. Dobbie (Rotherham)
Along with every other Member who has expressed his opinion to-day, I am glad that an opportunity is being given to the House to let the country and the Government know the opinion of Members of the House of Commons in regard to the family allowances of members of the Forces. I hope that this is only an instalment. I am sorry that the Opposition has not placed an alternative on the Order Paper, challenging the Government and demanding something on a higher scale. I sometimes think that the question of soldiers' pay and allowances is handed over to the Minister of Pensions because of his popularity, because of his evident sincerity in expression of opinion when he is stating his case. I think the Government are building on that popularity and using the Minister of Pensions to get through the scheme outlined in the White Paper, which in my opinion does not reflect credit either on the Government or on the House of Commons. I hope, if it is accepted to-day, that the representatives of the other Services who have turned up will take this as an intimation to go back and review the situation. I entirely agree with the hon. Member who said that he regretted that this work was placed on the Minister of Pensions, because I cannot at all understand why the Government should not review the whole situation and give to the members of the Fighting Services a rate of pay and an allowance for their families which would remove them from the sphere of committees of this description altogether and relieve them entirely of the application of the means test. Because no matter by what name you call it, whether you call it a needs test or assistance, the fact remains that the mean, contemptuous means test is being applied to the men on whom we depend for the safety of the nation and the safety of our lives. No one in this Parliament can look the soldier of to-day in the face and feel that he has given him and his family a square deal on the basis of this White Paper.
The Minister said that the scheme was being recast. Well, the moulders have made a pretty rough job of it. We are making great play of the fact that there will be a minimum of 16s. a week. Who is there in this House who would like to live on that? I think that ought to be the test. This scheme is based on the 1571 lowest rate of pay of an unskilled worker, but the job of the soldier of to-day is not the job of an unskilled worker; it is the job of a highly skilled artisan, coupled with courage and determination. We are showing a very poor appreciation of the services we demand from these men, and from the women who are in the Services. In paragraph 2 it is stated that after reasonable commitments have been met a unit basis of 16s. per week shall be allowed. Who is going to say what the reasonable commitments are?
I wonder if the House understands that out of the 450,000 there have been 450,000 applications made, not 300,000. Out of the 450,000 who have already made application 150,000 of them have been refused by the application of the means test. I want everyone to remember that the means test still remains in its application to those who may apply in the future. And it is a review by the staff, not by the committee, not by the Minister. I want to know from whoever replies to the Debate on behalf of the Minister, if they will tell us that the Minister will lay down quite clearly and definitely to the staff, in the form of instructions what is looked upon as a reasonable commitment, and whether the House has an opportunity of agreeing with what might, or what might not, be reasonable commitments. It says in the White Paper that the unit basis shall be 16s. per head and that a child up to school leaving age—15 years, the Minister told us—shall be looked upon as a half unit, 8s. This, as has been said by some of those who have spoken before, is only a poverty basis. The Minister has made a reference to the woman with six children and what she would receive. He forgot to draw the picture to the House that probably one week she would have to buy six pairs of new boots or pay for repairs to six pairs. I would not say that the Minister has forgotten—I believe he is the victim of circumstances in having to present and champion this White Paper to-day—but those responsible for drawing it up have evidently not thought of these things.
The Minister says that we will go up to 20s. a week. What are the types of cases on which we shall do that? If it is necessary for the wife of one Service man, what is wrong with the woman who is 1572 only getting 16s.? These are some of the questions we should like to ask. I should like whoever is to reply to tell us what is to be the unit basis for a soldier's wife who, because she may be too old or not very well in health, is unable to take or get work and is living in a house by herself, keeping the home going for when her husband returns. Is she expected to live on a unit basis of 16s.? That is physically and absolutely impossible. I hope the Minister will give due consideration to these things.
In view of the fact that time is getting on and many other hon. Members wish to speak, I shall not take up the time of the House on the matter except again to appeal to the Minister to make some sort of statement to the House when he replies, that this is only an interim report, that he intends to go back and endeavour to do something better. I wish some representative of the War Office could rise and say that so far as they are concerned they will go back to their Department, bearing in mind the criticism which has been levelled in this House at this White Paper, about the absolute inadequacy of its contents, and promising to prepare and lay before this House a scheme that will give to the whole of the members of the Forces a reasonable rate of wage that will allow them and their wives and families to live in a decent state of comfort without the application of any kind of means test at all under any circumstances.
I would like, in conclusion, to ask the Minister, when he replies, if he would agree that, when a form is filled up and goes back to the people who have made the application, if they are refused, they should be given a clear intimation that they have a right of appeal. Thousands of those people who have been refused are unaware of the fact that they have a right of appeal. I would like the Minister to take into consideration, further, the placing of those forms at the Post Office where the dependants draw their weekly money. There is, in spite of the Minister's assurance, a tremendous difficulty in obtaining these forms. I hope that the Minister, and other members of the Government, will bear in mind, not the challenge, but the advice, that the House of Commons has given them to-day, lest a greater, stronger and more determined force may arise and speak to them in no uncertain voice.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for War (Sir Edward Grigg)
I do not want to take up the time of the House, but as the hon. Member for South East Essex (Mr. Raikes) has referred to a particular case of what is considered to be unfairness, I should like to deal with it at once. He suggested that there was discrimination between a W.A.A.F. officer and an officer of the A.T.S. I am sure that that is not the case. So far as we are aware, there is no rule which would establish any discrimination of that kind. However I am sure the hon. Member would not have spoken without some authority for what he said. If he will give me an example, I shall be glad to look into it. So far as we are aware, however, there is no discrimination in this matter between the A.T.S. and the W.A.A.F. I can give an assurance that the War Office will most certainly take to heart everything that has been said in this Debate.
§ Miss Ward (Wallsend)
I feel that I am entitled to claim the indulgence of the House for a few moments as I am a member of the War Service Grants Committee, which is charged with the task of advising the Minister on these very important questions. Also, as a back bench Member of Parliament, I have the responsibility of voicing my views and the views of my constituents on the allowances which are paid to the dependants of Service men. May I make it plain that I am speaking purely as a Member of Parliament? I have no authority to speak for the War Service Grants Committee; but I am very glad indeed to be a member of that Committee. The chairman, Sir Charles Doughty, is a distinguished member of the legal profession, with a very wide knowledge of varying circumstances of life, and he has a very generous and sympathetic approach to the problems we are considering to-day. In that sense, he has given direction and guidance to the Committee. I am delighted to hear the criticisms that have been voiced to-day from both sides of the House. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend whether before the White Paper was issued the advice of the Advisory Committee was taken?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I said in my opening remarks that recommendations that had been made from time to time by my Advisory Committee had been acted upon in the preparation of the White Paper. When it came to the final stage and the White Paper had to be produced in time for the Debate—a demand having been made for a Debate this week—it was not possible for me to consult the Committee further, and I did not do so.
§ Miss Ward
I do not want to impose the blame on to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions. He has always been most approachable, and, I believe, has the real interests of the Service men at heart, nor do I want to put any blame on the Department. But I do want to blame the system. Many people may criticise me for what I am going to say, but I want to bring a sense of reality into our form of government. It is quite time that a few strong words were directed to the Government in this connection. We have all known for some considerable lime—and my right hon. Friend made it perfectly plain in his opening statement—of the feeling in the country about the inadequacy of the allowances being paid to dependants of Service men. Did my right hon. Friend always accept the advice of his Committee? I am not blaming him. I think there are greater powers than he; as has been pointed out, the Service Departments, the Government, the Treasury have all been in a position to prevent him from making adequate preparations or alterations, but it has been very well known for many months what discontent, dissatisfaction and legitimate grievances there were among Service men on these points.
This is what happened. I understand that a Debate was asked for. I am only a back bench Member and therefore do not know what is in the mind of the Government, but rumour has it, and it has been stated, that an appeal was made to the party which wished to bring up the matter for discussion to hold off the Debate for some little time until the Government could formulate their plans. I am told that an appropriate appeal was addressed to the party and that the appeal of the Minister was rejected. The Debate had to take place, and—it is now perfectly evident—the White Paper was then prepared without any adequate or proper consultation of any kind or description. 1575 I must say in all sincerity that I consider it a most extraordinary thing to have an Advisory Committee who have to accept criticism in the Press and have responsibility for every form issued to every man who makes an application for a war service grant. The White Paper was issued, and the House is being asked to adopt the proposals, and the Advisory Committee are to be charged in the future with advising the Minister and are to go on doing their work, and yet they could not have been consulted as to their views on the White Paper.
That is not leadership; that is not direction. We want leadership and direction from the Government. I am not blaming my right hon. Friend. I have not the slightest doubt he was told that it had been decided to have the Debate to-day and that he and his Department worked extraordinarily hard to prepare the White Paper and issue it and give the House an opportunity of discussing the proposals. But, believe me, we want a Government that has vision and one that plans ahead. We do not want a Government, when there is a united demand and a demand in the Press, that gives way to panic and produces a scheme which has not had proper consideration by the people who are qualified and have been asked to consider this question. I do not refer only to the War Service Grants Committee. There are the Soldiers and Sailors Families' Association, the Council of Social Service, the Citizens Advice Bureau, the British Legion and masses of other people. You have your officers' organisations and Service Departments and all the information available, and representations have been made time and time again in individual Questions in this House. The Government did not respond until there was a demand for a Debate, and then the Government, because public opinion was so strong, had not the courage to say, "We were going to make better proposals and better preparation, but we must consult these people, on whom we have been relying for some time." It is not just leadership; it is merely coming forward to say to the House, "What wonderful schemes we are now producing." I am bound by the traditions of service on the Advisory Committee, and by a sense of having some responsibility and not being in a position to unseal my lips. I intend to 1576 abide by that tradition, which is consistent with the best public service, but I would like to say to my right hon. Friend, in all fairness to the Committee, that at the end of this Debate he ought to prepare a White Paper setting out the recommendations which have been made from time to time by his War Service Grants Committee and the action which has been taken upon them.
I can speak freely on this matter, because it is not a personal matter at all. I am here to defend the work of the Committee, which has worked extremely hard to help my right hon. Friend. I do not want even the smallest vote of thanks given to me; I want the work of the Committee acknowledged and the Minister to make it perfectly plain to the country that we are only an Advisory Committee, whose advice he has the right to reject if he so desires. In all fairness he should tell the truth to the House of Commons and explain how it was that a White Paper has been prepared and presented to the House for discussion without one single word of advice being asked of this Committee.
I want to say one ether thing about the White Paper, and then I have finished. Paragraph 4 says:…a graduated scale will be applied to higher unit income and will be so adjusted as to give more liberal treatment than at present.Is my right hon. Friend's Advisory Committee to be asked to advise him on what they think a proper graduated scale, or has the pass already been sold to the Treasury? What are the arrangements which have been made for pregnant women in regard to their uniform and allowances? I have a letter from a welfare officer who states that when he wrote to a regimental paymaster about an urgent case, asking him to back an application to the War Service Grants Committee, he replied that he had great sympathy with the application but that he already had 500 urgent cases, and there was not a hope that this case would get to the appropriate Government channel for at least eight weeks. So far as administration is concerned, the Committee are in no way responsible. We are not asked to advise on administration; that is no part of our terms of reference. I quite understand the difficulties in which my right hon. Friend finds himself 1577 with regard to staff, personnel and trained people to carry out administration, but why always say everything is going on perfectly well when we know that men and their wives have had to wait for months and months? It is a difficult position for a Minister to face, and it is not entirely his responsibility. It is the most difficult thing in the world to administer fairly and equitably a scheme of this kind, and I think that hon. Members who have voiced their doubts as to whether the Department can carry on the detailed work which is involved in this scheme have touched on an important point. Has the Minister already decided what is to be done with regard to grants to pregnant women, or is the Advisory Committee to be asked to give advice on this matter?
There are many other hon. Members who wish to speak, and although there is a great deal more I could say, I will conclude with these words. The Ministry of Information spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on stimulating morale in the country, and sometimes they are very successful. But if the Government knew what is being said in the back streets, they would save themselves the trouble of spending that money. In war time we have to do justice, and we have to do it before public clamour demands that it shall be done. The Ministry of Pensions must take advantage of the experience there is in the country, and the}' must take advice from people who know what is going on. They must not fall into the trap of hastily bringing forward ill-considered proposals in order to try to quieten Parliamentary public opinion. Let us be thankful that Parliament still lives and that we have an opportunity of voicing our criticisms in Parliamentary Debates.
§ Mr. Hubert Beaumont (Batley and Morley)
I feel that at this juncture one ought to express a certain amount of sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Pensions. Only one portion of his speech has met with universal approval, and that one portion concerned something with which he has nothing to do in his administration. He told us that serving members of the Forces are to be granted four free travel warrants a year, a piece of justice that is long overdue. The White Paper which the Minister has presented has been received with a mixed chorus of commendation and condemna- 1578 tion. The commendation has been largely in inspired articles in the Press prior to this Debate, and the condemnation has been in the speeches that we have heard in the Debate. One must pay a tribute to the spirit in which the Minister has carried out the administration of his Department and his generous impulses and desire to deal fairly with every case, now the Services have pushed on to him the case of the dependants of those in the fighting Services. Surely it is only right and just that the care, comfort and well-being of those in the Forces and their dependants should be the consideration of the Service Departments, and that they ought themselves to have brought forward proposals to improve these conditions.
What is to happen as a result of this White Paper? In reading the articles in the Press during the last two or three days, one might have had great hopes that there would be greatly increased allowances and improved conditions for the great majority of those who have relatives in the Forces. There is no doubt that great hopes will have been raised, and those hopes will be dashed as the months go by and these people do not receive improved allowances. Their hopes will be turned to doubts and grave disquiet. A considerable amount of annoyance and vexation will ensue, and there will be a good deal of unrest. Eventually when those who are entitled to receive these additional benefits do receive them, there will be no sense of thankfulness in their hearts at having received them, but annoyance that they did not receive them earlier. I submit that the White Paper will in no way deal with the major problem.
I want briefly to deal with one or two points. I understand that applications will have to be made to the Assistance Board. We are told that, because of an excess of business, the Post Office will not be able to issue the forms to applicants. I hope strong pressure will be brought to bear upon the Post Office to become servants of the community in this matter. A number of people will make personal application at the Assistance Board office. The offices of the Assistance Board are situated very long distances away from the homes of the people who have men in the Fighting Forces. Only within the last fortnight the Assistance Board office 1579 has been moved from Uxbridge to Feltham, which involves a journey of at least three hours and an expenditure of 1s. 8£d. People cannot afford to take such a journey. The greatest facility should be given to people to obtain the essential form. It has been suggested that they may be distributed through certain agencies. I hope that the good services of the local authorities will be invoked and also of the Citizens Advice Bureaux, a service that is invaluable in these days. I want to make what may seem on the face of it an extravagant proposal. I suggest, as it is most desirable that the man or woman who is serving should fill the form rather than the wife, that every member of the Fighting Services should, as speedily as possible, be given one of these forms. This could be done on pay parades. The welfare officers could advise on how to fill up the forms.
There is another point that I should like answered. I gather that certain commitments will be met. I want to know what about commitments which have been increased during the man's service. I have in mind a case of a woman who is very heavily in debt in regard to her rates. She has to pay something like 25s. a week for her house with a large rateable value and has got very heavily into debt and cannot secure cheaper accommodation. The local authority have been very generous and have allowed it to continue until it has risen to very many pounds. I want to know if, in these conditions, the whole amount will be paid off or only the proportion that was owing when the man entered the Service. I submit that it is essential that the whole of the liability should be taken over. Then what steps are to be taken to prevent people exploiting this White Paper themselves? I do not mean members of the Services, but the owners of houses. What is to stop people who let furnished rooms—and in many cases relatives of serving men and women are compelled to live in furnished or partly furnished rooms—from increasing their rents and getting the extra rent, as it were, out of national funds?
With regard to children, the Minister stated that the age would be 15. I want him to reconsider that, and I hope he will make it the school-leaving age, 1580 which is 14. Even in these difficult times a large number of parents are voluntarily keeping their children at school until the age of 15, but if they are to receive only half-rate the possibility of the children of serving soldiers being kept at school for another year will be greatly diminished. I suggest that the full rate should be continued to all children over 14 as. long as they are in educational establishments. I want to go further and suggest that the full rate should be given for the sick and ailing child until the father returns if the child does not get better before. I happen to possess one of the forms, and I must say that it will demand a tremendous amount of interrogation and inquiry. What to my mind should be essential on the form is not there. There is no space on it for the applicant to give any indication of his other commitments, rent and so forth. Therefore, it means that the person who makes the inquiry will have to go through a large amount of interrogation. Cannot the form be simplified and made more complete so that the least number of questions need be asked when inquiry is made?
This increase in allowances, which was expected, may have a depressing effect upon the morale of our troops. It is true to say that the serving soldiers, airmen or sailors are more affected by and concerned with the discomforts of their kin than about their own personal discomforts. They have much graver anxiety about the shortage of food among their own people at home than any shortage they may experience. The serving man is concerned not only for the security of his home and folk from air raids and enemy action, but for their security from economic distress and poverty. We had hoped that the new scheme would bring greater hope, comfort and security for those who are fighting or are waiting 1o fight the battles of this country. I admit that the Minister of Pensions will have an extremely difficult and hard time. If one were to read his mind, I think it would be discovered that he would have preferred a different scheme. I cannot believe that he likes or approves of this imposition of the means test, but he has to make the best of a bad job. May I express the hope that he will soon come to the House with the statement that the present scheme is one which it is impossible to administer and that he himself will present a scheme 1581 of much greater breadth, much greater understanding and which will confer much greater benefit upon all those who are serving in the Forces. In the winning of the war we have to preserve the homes of our people.
§ Colonel Medlicott (Norfolk, Eastern)
I venture to address the House for a few minutes upon this White Paper, because, as one of the Army Welfare Officers I have been very close to the administration of war service grants ever since the system came into being. Those of us who have, at the expenditure of some toil and tribulation, extracted from the scheme the modest results which have hitherto been available view the present figures rather more favourably than has been the case generally in the House to-day. I regard the increases as a definite step in the right direction, and the fact that this further series of concessions has been announced may, I think, be taken as an indication that if experience shows that still further increases are necessary they will be made. I am, however, more concerned about the machinery under which this scheme is to operate. If the delays which have, unfortunately, been so great a feature in the past are to be repeated, a heavy responsibility will rest upon the Minister. I think I am right in saying that the serious delays which have taken place are, perhaps, the source of the greatest amount of criticism which has arisen. The need for making application for a war service grant does not arise until a state of hardship has become apparent, and speed in decision is then absolutely vital. As has been said in another connection, one tank now is worth five in a few months' time, and time and time again one has met cases where an immediate decision to allow a comparatively small amount would have made all the difference to the serving man's family. I welcome this White Paper, because I am convinced that in all the circumstances the method of supplementing the serving man's income in this manner, according to his need, is sound.
But, as I remarked a moment ago, a heavy responsibility rests upon the Minister, because in the opinion of most of those who have come into contact with the working of the scheme the machinery is not capable of bearing the added load which will now be placed upon it. I do 1582 the Minister the credit of assuming that he has not overlooked that somewhat important point, and I feel sure that he has worked out in his own mind the very radical improvements which will have to be made if that speed is to be provided. If one follows the journey of the application form it is apparent that the existing procedure is very cumbersome. It starts off, perhaps, either in the home of the wife, if the serving man is overseas, or in the orderly room. It goes to the regimental paymaster, then on to the committee, then to the Assistance Board, then back to the committee, and then it may even have to go back to the regimental paymaster if some change has taken place in the man's circumstances since the application was first made. It is almost impossible to put the blame for delay upon any particular person when the form has to go through so many stages, but the responsibility for cutting out these various causes of delay rests upon the Minister. I think it is correct to say that many of these references back could be avoided if the committee were given a wider discretion. Applications are referred back chiefly in order to avoid any risk of over-payment of Treasury money, and I feel that we have reached the stage where we need not be so meticulously careful. If the families of a few hundred or a few thousand serving men receive overpayment for a short time, it is a small price to pay for a general speeding up in the whole procedure.
Reference has been made to the need for further publicity. We may be sure that in the energetic hands of the Minister the widest publicity will be secured, but I suggest that the proposal put forward by the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. H. Beaumont) is worthy of further thought by the Minister. It docs not seem to be satisfactory that a scheme intended to provide better incomes for all the serving men in the British Forces should be dependent at any point upon publicity. It ought to be a matter of absolute right that every soldier in the Army and every man serving in the Navy or the Air Force should automatically be entitled to apply for this grant. I would go even further than the hon. Member who last spoke; I would invite the Minister to consider whether the onus of putting forward these applications should 1583 not be placed upon regimental paymasters. There may be practical difficulties which would make that impossible, but I think it is well worthy of consideration whether the question of entitlement to war service grant should not be initiated by the pay authorities themselves.
I would make a further suggestion regarding the machinery. I understand that the real investigation is made at the present time by a representative of the Assistance Board. He, however, simply advises the War Service Grants Committee, and the Committee, in their turn, advise the Minister. One wonders whether it would be possible to decentralise the procedure and to place the power of decision much more in the hands of Assistance Board officers, working in conjunction with regimental paymasters. My experience has shown that the Committee appears to be much overworked. Members of the Committee are doing wonderful work, personally, but the Department as a whole does not appear to be able to stand the strain of the enormous number of applications which are put in. Whatever method is adopted of putting the scheme into operation, whether it is to be a matter for the regimental paymasters or left to publicity, I suggest that some decentralisation would be an effective improvement in the machinery.
I welcomed very much the assurance by the Minister that he will ask the Post Office to reconsider the question of issuing the forms. It will be very much easier for the post offices to hand out forms than to spend time giving information about the Assistance Board and generally discussing the matter. The Post Office has become the place to which people are accustomed to turn for forms concerning all State allowances. I also hope that the Committee will interpret their new instructions as generously as possible. I have always had the impression that the hand of the Treasury has weighed with extreme heaviness upon the Committee who have been very strictly bound by regulations regarding what they could agree to.
I do not want to give a wrong impression by an illustration, but a case came to my notice in which, after many weeks of investigation and discussion, an award was announced amounting to 1s. a week. If 1584 hardship had in fact been proved in that case, it is impossible to contend that it was relieved by so minute a grant. Surely it was a matter of many shillings; in any case, the Service man and his family might have been given the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, I hope that in considering what are "reasonable commitments," the Committee will be authorised—they need not be instructed, they need only be authorised—to give the most generous interpretation to what constitutes hardship. I feel that if that is done, the scheme may prove to be a very definite contribution towards the needs of the serving man. As I indicated at the beginning of my remarks, I do not suggest for one moment that the figures which are now brought forward can be regarded as perfect, nor as all that we could wish, but I believe that if the Minister can give authority for a more generous interpretation of the Committee's powers, and if, above all, he will so reorganise his machine as to enable decisions to be arrived at with speed, this White Paper may be regarded as the promise of a step forward in our endeavours to deal properly with the position of the serving man and his dependants.
§ Major Haden Guest (Islington, North)
It is quite clear from the way the Debate has gone to-day, and from the Minister's opening statement, that this White Paper is very hastily constructed and ill digested, and is one which ought not to have been brought before the House in its present form. The scheme is quite clearly unworkable. I think every experienced Member of this House who knows anything about administration realises that it is unworkable. I presume that this Debate has no mandatory effect, but I trust sincerely that this is the last we shall hear of this scheme, which is bound to be condemned by every Service person who looks at the facts as they are and by everyone in the country who wants to maintain the morale of our troops at a proper level.
However well intentioned this scheme may be, and whatever the reasons—I find it difficult to understand them—that led to its being brought forward in this way, it is quite clear that not the Minister but the Government have made a very serious mistake in bringing it forward. It has been condemned from all sides of the House; even the last speaker, who said 1585 the kindest things he could think of and who seemed to be trying very hard to say kind things, was not able to keep what amounted to a condemnation of the scheme out of his own speech. The point that first appealed to me about this scheme was the very simple one that even if it had been in itself a scheme operating useful improvements in the condition of allowances, it was one which would not work. Its administration will not work. The most favourable estimate I have heard from authoritative sources—the Minister will recognise them—of the amount of time needed to deal with the claims which will come pouring in is three months. The hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) has suggested that it might be a period of over a year. It will certainly be not less than six months. Have the Government—has the hon. Gentleman opposite—forgotten that we have not six months in which to play about with the morale of the soldier? Have the Government forgotten that there is at the present time a front on which our Forces are engaged, a front which extends from Moscow to London and which is being heavily attacked, and that if the attack at the other end is as successful as the German generals wish, it will turn round in this direction?
Let me remind the Minister of one remark he made. He said that the soldier was not very much concerned about his own pay, but that what upset him was when he got a letter from home about allowances, about the condition of his wife and children. That upset him for several days. Officers had told him, I believe, that for several days the man was below par. That was the impression he conveyed. It is undoubtedly true. What is the case with regard to this proposal that the Minister has brought forward, that in every case in the Army, the Air Force and the Navy there shall be a fresh assessment, that all these millions of people will have to appeal to the Assistance Board? This proposal is one which I find it difficult to characterise in Parliamentary language. It is a most discreditable proposal, and it ought to be withdrawn with the scorn of Parliament upon it which it deserves. We have no time to play around like this with the morale of the men. The Minister said very definitely in the course of his speech that one of the main objections to the all-round flat-rate increase, as proposed by the T.U.C., or 1586 some modification of it, was the cost; that is to say, the Treasury have put out their fiat that there shall be no flat-rate increase. The Treasury have enlisted themselves to strike a severe blow against the morale of the Services. That is what it means in plain English from the standpoint of operations; there is not the slightest doubt about that.
We ought to keep our men keyed up to the highest pitch. Our turn for very severe fighting on the Russian scale may not be such a very long way away. The fact that there is a case for keeping the hardship grants machinery working in order that quite exceptional cases may be dealt with is, I think, quite true. This should be an exceptional and not a routine matter, but the idea of the whole Army, the Air Force and the Navy being lined up, as it were, or their wives being lined up, outside the Assistance Board offices, to get these forms and fill them up—the thing is madness; it is impossible to carry it out. Where is the Minister to get his staff? Would that staff not be very much better employed in munitions work or productive industry? How is he to square his demand for increased staff with the Minister of Labour? How can he possibly do it? T venture to say that it will not be possible to get the staff sufficiently trained to do this work. As the Minister knows, local authorities and Government Departments have the greatest difficulty in getting people of the right capacity to do their work at the present time. How is he going to get this enormous increase of Assistance Board employees, which he will require if these determinations of need and all the rest of it are to be carried out in any measurably small period? While the raising of the grant from £2 to £3 and the raising of the limits of what may be given should be at once carried out, the other questions should be put on one side and a conference arranged with the T.U.C., who, in this matter, have spoken for the working class of the country, and some compromise arrangement or some arrangement arrived at to bring forward some scheme of allowances on a flat-rate basis. There is no other way by which you can make a practical scheme."
If the Treasury is to go on as it has been doing, I hesitate to think what will be the effect on the Army in two or three 1587 months' time. The chief subject of discussion will be the form put out by the Ministry of Pensions, and the chief difficulty will be the filling-up of these forms. I know this subject from two sides. I knew the Army extremely well in the last war, and I know the Army in this war. I have been serving with them for 15 months. I know the difficulties of the men, the difficulties of the Services. I know the difficulties of administration, because I have been acting on the staff, in administrative work, for the last 15 months. You are going to increase the difficulties very seriously. I also know the difficulties of the women who will have to fill up these forms, because I have spent much of my life as a doctor among the people living in small back streets who supply the bulk of the British Army. These women will not know how to fill up these forms, which are extremely confusing.
Let me go back to the point, which I think the Government have forgotten, that if you bring this scheme into operation you will very seriously upset the morale of the Services. The lull at present is a deceptive lull. We should always remember when there is such a lull that we are fighting not only for our lives and our institutions, but for the lives and instutions of free men everywhere. They depend upon us. Crass maladministration of the kind proposed to-day should not go through without the strong condemnation that it has had. I trust that the Minister will take this proposal back, that he will realise that it was a mistake and a badly-conceived scheme, and that he will have the courage to call in the T.U.C. to discuss the matter, so that he may have a scheme which is fair to everyone. After the Treasury have put up their point, if they disagree, let us remember that it is not they who should decide our destinies, but Parliament. In unhesitating words to-day, speaker after speaker has condemned this scheme. If the Government put this scheme into operation now, they will be condemned by the country.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
Naturally, this Debate has centred chiefly upon the effect of these proposals on the Army. I obtained special leave to attend this Debate, as one who took no part in the recent campaign for 1588 increased allowances for officers, not because I had no sympathy with it, but because I thought that the case of an increase for the rank and file was considerably more urgent. I am gravely disappointed with this White Paper. I first raised this matter in the Budget Debate in 1940, and I put a question to the Prime Minister last month asking whether the Government would now consider a scheme for raising the basic rates of pay of the Services as a whole.
No argument has been put forward to-day about the necessity for an improvement. There has been, however, a clash between Ministers and private Members regarding the method. The Government have chosen to extend the machinery for family allowances. That leaves outside the vast number of young single men in all three Forces. I claim that the raising of the basic rate is essential. I am aware that already a 6d. war bonus has been granted. I ally myself, if I may, with the T.U.C. in their recent resolution, which advocated a figure of 3s. I am glad to see that they come part of the way with me, but in my opinion that august body is losing its form; in my opinion, the basic rate should be 4s. I have no desire to enter into exaggerated language about Dives in the munitions factories and Lazarus in the Forces: no munitions worker fares sumptuously every day; but there is a great gulf fixed between, say, the private soldiers and these engineers, surely strangely unrepresentative of their calling, who last week sent a telegram to the Prime Minister demanding that their less fortunate comrades should be flung forthwith into a military adventure in Western Europe. May I also remark in passing that the rank and file of the Forces cannot hope to command the salaries of those Sabbath Day strategists of Fleet Street who are advocating the same course?
I think it has been clear from the attitude of hon. Members opposite that putting forward this view is not to create any bad blood between those in the Forces and industrial workers. I happen to know that there is strong feeling among industrial workers themselves that their position in this matter is invidious. I remember speaking to a man in my constituency the last time that I was there on leave who 1589 said he deplored the fact and fell humiliated that he was drawing £8 per week while his brother, one of the guardians of Tobruk, was drawing only 17s. 6d. I believe that that feeling is strong among industrial workers themselves and there is no question of creating bad blood between them and members of the Force.
I am told that it is due to the attitude of the Government and that their opposition to an increase in the basic rate is due to Treasury opposition. For the last half-hour, for the first time, we have had a representative of the Treasury on the Front Bench. I wish they had thought it worth while to attend the earlier part of the Debate. But really the Treasury cannot say, when the question of increases to the Forces comes up, that the increased expenditure will result in inflation when the same arguments are not adduced and enforced against wage increases when they come along. Reserved occupations cannot be reserved from Treasury dictums concerning inflation, nor can one have one law for industrial workers and another for the Services in these matters. It so happens that my naval duty lies principally among convoy signalmen, and I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, who is present, will testify that these young men have played a noble part in bringing safely to our shores millions of tons of precious cargoes vital to our survival, and it is strangely ironical that as they come ashore they have to pass posters inviting them to convoy to victory with savings they are unable to make. This method of increasing allowances is a second best. The Government should increase both allowances and the basic rate of pay.
I am speaking in all good temper when I say that there is an unfortunate resemblance to the discrepancy in the treatment of the rank and file compared with industry which existed in the last war. There is bound to be a suspicion that this sinister parallel will be extended to the post-war period and that the men who return with victory on their banners will be elbowed out of industry and rewarded with doles. I am confident that this is not the intention of the Government, but actions speak louder than words in this matter, and, to say the least of it, it is unfortunate that a 1590 Government, who have acted with boldness and initiative in facing many political and military hazards, should in these questions follow the technique beloved of the Duke of Plaza Toro. I hope that in these matters Ministers will give a spontaneous lead and not leave it to us Private Members to be the advocates of generosity to the fighting men. There is one thing I would make quite clear. I would not like hon. Gentlemen opposite to give the Government or the House the impression that these proposals are causing rampant discontent among the rank and file. I know that the proposals are only a day or two old, but I have taken very great care to try and find out the reactions, and I have heard no grumbling from any of the men whom I have the honour to command. Of course, they cannot lobby, and, in any case, they are not of that kidney.
§ It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Adamson.]
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
I believe, in all seriousness, that these young men believe the issue to be so vital that even if you cut their pay in half they would still give of their best without thinking of pounds, shillings and pence. But this fact alone—and it is this observation that I want to impress upon the Minister—the fact of their willing service and their splendid sacrifice to achieve victory, come what may, lays the greatest of all obligations upon His Majesty's Government and, indeed, upon every individual Member of this House. The Government have had a bad day; will they not take back the White Paper and try to produce something better?
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I quite agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) that this White Paper has not caused a tremendous depreciation in morale throughout the Forces. I do not think any hon. Member has suggested that, but as one who can speak with great familiarity about the Army, having been in the last war and in this, I say that the Services have a peculiar way of expressing their discontent. It used to be called in the last war a state of "fed-upness," 1591 and in this war I believe it is called a state of "browning off." Do not let us be misled by Army slang or expression, but there is in the ranks of the Army a feeling of considerable discontent. At what? At the disparity between what they are getting in pay and allowances and what is being obtained in private industry. The War Office have an extensive welfare department, with officers all over the place whose job it is to inform the Department of the feeling among all ranks in matters such as this, but I warn the Government that if they do not take the feeling of the Fighting Services into account on matters of this nature, then at one time or another, in certain circumstances, there may be a danger of a break
I quite agree that it is not a question of money that actuates the splendid fighting spirit of men and women in the Forces, but, speaking as one who served in the ranks myself, I know how acceptable it was to me not only to get my meagre Army pay —then 1s. 1½d. a day—but also an allowance from my employer. When you see pictures of soldiers in full kit, side by side, swimming rivers, it makes you wonder if it does not possibly occur to Private Thomas Atkins and Private Thomas Brown that one is swimming a river for 2s. 6d. a day while his neighbour's pay is being augmented by a subsidy from his private employer. That sort of thing will not do. Obviously, it is impossible to go into details of the White Paper at this late hour. I could speak for a long time about its anomalies, but what has happened has been this. Feeling has arisen throughout the Services about the inadequacy of pay and allowances. It is being expressed in various ways, inside and outside this House, and it has culminated in the Trades Union Congress asking for very radical and substantial increases in the pay and allowances of our Fighting Forces.
What have the Government done? They realised that the point had come when they must stop the rising agitation for it could not be allowed to proceed to its logical conclusion, as is the case when a big union demands negotiations for an increase in wages. They passed it to the Treasury, and the Treasury, because they work with a very antiquated pint pot, 1592 said that they could not get more out of the pot than a pint. The Government said that they must do something, and they squeezed this out of the standard measure. The whole matter of Service pay and allowances has to be considered in relation to all expenditure in war time. None of these things can be considered in isolation. I say to the Government that the time will arrive when they will have to consider matters of this sort, not in isolation, but as one complete whole. The whole question of war expenditure, wages and prices has to be considered, for otherwise there will be not only the danger of inflation facing us, but perhaps other dangers more serious.
I want to make a brief reference to one anomaly which has been created by the White Paper. It introduces a very desirable improvement in that the soldier's pay up to 4s. a day is not taken into account when considering the unit basis on which a war service grant will be made. I welcome that change. But consider what has happened. Not only are war service grants administered by the Ministry of Pensions, but dependants' allowances are administered by the Service Departments; and as far as I can see, there is no provision for that excellent piece of progress in the computation of dependants' allowances as administered by the Service Departments. I could quote many other anomalies which have been created by the White Paper.
I suggest to the Minister and the House that in ordinary times we would have divided on this issue. If my right hon. and hon. Friends who now sit with the Government had been in opposition, we would in normal times have done our best to reject this White Paper. We do not do so now. Why? Because out of a sense of loyalty to our leaders in the Government, and out of a sense of national unity, we seek to bring to bear on the Government what pressure we can by our speeches in the House. But do not let the Government mistake the intentions of the feelings of the House in this matter. Not one hon. Member has had anything really creditable to say about the White Paper. If our loyalty is not to be trespassed on, I suggest to the Government that they must take notice of what hon. Members have told them in the Debate. I suggest, further, that it is time we had a real council of State, for otherwise we cannot 1593 win the war. There is a Coalition Government at the present time, based on a party system even to-day. One of my hon. Friends mentioned that no consultations took place between the Minister of Pensions and the Advisory Committee. I will go further and say that very little consultation took place between the Minister and those Service Members, some of them with very considerable experience in these matters, who could have warned him of some of the pitfalls into which he has fallen in the composition of the White Paper.
If we are to get a real victory effort, which I cannot see at the moment, we have to mobilise all the forces in the country, and especially in this House must we utilise every force we can. At the present time we are not doing so. That is the reason we have got to the state in which the Services are fobbed off with proposals of this sort, which are to be administered by the Minister of Pensions, who is really not the Minister to do this. An indication of the feeling of the Service Departments is to be found in the lack of attention which they have paid to our Debate. One or two Undersecretaries from the Service Departments have been present, but I suggest that when matters of this nature are discussed, there ought to be present at least one of the heads of those Departments, particularly the Secretary of State for War, who generally leads the way in these matters for the three Services. I can only express the hope that there will be some improvement. If we cannot get an improvement in this manner, then much more radical steps will have to be taken to enforce our views on the Government. I hope the Government will be reasonable in the matter. I am sure that when Lord Beaverbrook asks for 30,000 tanks there is no question of the Treasury giving their approval of the cost. When we ask for a modest increase in the remuneration of the Services which have to operate those tanks we should not have the Treasury stepping in and saying, "You can only give a miserable £8,000,000 because it would otherwise cost such a lot of money." Of course it would: I know it only too well as a taxpayer, but the problem has to be faced. Why not let us face it now?
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions (Mr. Paling)
This 1594 has been an interesting Debate. I have heard discussions on schemes which have perhaps had a more unqualified and enthusiastic reception than this, but, even so, there does not seem to have been over much criticism of the scheme itself. The main criticism appears to be as to whether we should have this or some other method of providing these payments. As far as I can gather, the method in the mind of most people is a flat rate of increase in pay and allowances. The Minister has explained why we have this method of dealing with the question in preference to any other, and I must confine myself to this scheme. An hon. Member asked me if I looked after this part of the Department's work. I have done so since I went there. I soon found that there were serious deficiencies in the present war service grants scheme. When this opportunity came up and we discussed it, we took advantage of the situation to get rid of most of those deficiencies and to put into operation what we considered was a greatly improved scheme. I think everyone will agree that, whatever the criticism may be in other regards, this scheme is a vast improvement on the present one. One of the main troubles that I came across was this: You had a man who before he joined up was in a low wage employment. His pay, allotment and allowances very often amounted to more than his wages before he entered the Service, and because of that fact you could not give him anything. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"]. Because the scheme did not allow it. He had always been low paid, and he remained low paid. He was generally the man whose need was greatest, and we could not do anything for him.
§ Mr. Paling
Recommendations may or may not have been made, but we have taken advantage of the opportunity presented to us to improve the scheme in this particular, which I consider is the most important. The needs of these people were the greatest, and we could not give them anything. The lifting up to 16s. per unit and 8s. per half unit in the case of children will make a vast difference in the homes of tens of thousands of 1595 soldiers. I am glad to say that we have been able to do that with regard to the low wage applicants. There has been some criticism with regard to the childless wife. She does not get the benefit of this scheme, but we realise that many childless wives, by reason of age, infirmity or pregnancy, will be unlit to work and to add to the family income by that means. We have made provision to take these women into the scheme and, if they suffer from any of these disabilities, to put them on the higher scale. I consider that a great improvement. There are also the grants for sickness and death. Questions were asked by two Members who belong to the medical profession as to whether £2 is a fit figure to start on. There may be some question about that, but there can be no question about the fact that when illness occurs it often means that a load of debt is put upon the family because of the extra things they have had to get. The fact that they can receive help over and above the £2 will prove to be a generous provision, as also will the provision of £7 10s. in the case of death.
Another improvement has been made in the case of men who get extra pay, particularly proficiency pay. When a man has been in the Service six months he gets an extra 6d. a day for proficiency pay. If a man gets a war service grant of 7s. 6d. a week, for example, we inform him that when he gets his proficiency pay the amount of the grant will be reduced by 3s. 6d. per week. That has always been resented and has been a sore point ever since I went to the Ministry. I am glad to be able to say that that has now been withdrawn, and the full deduction will not be made. The man can receive an increase of 4s. before he begins to have anything deducted. Four-sevenths of any amount he may get over and above 4s. will be deducted in respect of his wife leaving three-sevenths for himself. Those are four of the main benefits which the scheme brings, and having had to work under the old system, and knowing the difficulties and the hardships inflicted particularly on low-wage applicants, I have no hesitation in saying that this scheme is a tremendous improvement, and I am glad that it is so.
Let me deal now with one or two questions which have been asked. If I do not 1596 reply to all of them, I can promise hon. Members that we will go very carefully through the OFFICIAL REPORT and give the fullest consideration to any questions which hon. Members have asked or any suggestions they have made. Although there may have been some criticisms today, there have been a good many suggestions put forward with the idea of helping us. One thing which appears to have troubled many hon. Members is that the forms will not be obtainable at post offices but are to be given out through the Assistance Board. It is said that Assistance Board officers are not so numerous as post offices, as there is a post office in every village.. If the post offices were brought m, that would be an added facility, but it must be remembered that the applicant has two opportunities of getting a form. Not only can a form be obtained from the officers of the Assistance Board, but a serving man can get one from his unit. But the question whether post offices should be included will be given full consideration.
It has been suggested that the means test is in operation, and that has been condemned. I do not dispute that an applicant's means have to be taken into consideration, but I world point out that we also put into operation the Determination of Needs Act; in other words, all the things which are disregarded in the case of applicants for supplementary old age pensions, and which virtually abolish the household means test, will be disregarded in these cases. Therefore, if the household means test is virtually abolished in the one case because the Determination of Needs Act applies, it must be almost virtually abolished in this case.
Mr. McNeil (Greenock)
Does that mean that where a mother who has a son in the Army is receiving payment from members of the family in residence in the house, you are now going to disregard those payments altogether in calculating her means?
§ Mr. Paling
What I mean is that when the income of the family is taken into consideration all those various incomes or parts of incomes, which are referred to in the Determination of Needs Act now and are disregarded will be disregarded in this case also.
I am sorry to press the point, but does the hon. Gentleman literally mean that he is going to apply 1597 exactly the same test as to dependency as is now applied in the case of supplementary pensions?
§ Mr. Paling
I do not quite know what my hon. Friend means, but I mean what I have said, that the Determination of Needs Act will apply in this as in the other case. Then we were asked whether, when we draw up regulations for the staff, we shall say what are regarded as reasonable commitments. I have had a few words with my right hon. Friend the Minister about this, and he gives an unqualified "Yes" in answer to that question. Then we have been asked whether we would let applicants who have been refused a grant know that they have a right of appeal. I think the right of appeal does virtually exist. Applicants, if they are not satisfied with a decision, can send it back to have it re-examined. There is this further advantage, that in quite a number of cases where an application has been refused and the applicant is not satisfied he has not hesitated to approach his Member of Parliament, who brings up the case here.
§ Mr. Dobbie
The point I intended to make was this: When an application is refused will it be intimated to the individual who is told that it is refused that he has the right of appeal? Thousands of people do not know that they have a right of appeal.
§ Mr. Paling
I cannot give an unqualified "Yes" to that question, because in so many of these cases it is clear that then? remains no room for appeal. At any rate, the suggestion will remain for consideration. The hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) made an interesting speech containing some suggestions. We shall examine the suggestions very carefully. He was concerned, in the main, about the length of time it might take to put the scheme into operation. One calculation he made was that it would be 75 weeks before we had sorted the claims. We have not any such length of time in our minds. He said that the number of applications would be at least 1,500,000. That is an excessive estimate. A fairly large proportion of the men in the Forces to-day are single young men, and there will be no application from them. There are numbers of men in action, and their Gases will be reviewed without any applications coming in. It 1598 is a serious point; there will be a tremendous increase in work, and it will take some time to get all these cases—
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
No doubt the Minister will have in mind that single young men are capable of having dependants.
§ Mr. Paling
Exactly. Where they have dependants they will make their applications, which will be looked into and dealt with. We are making extraordinary efforts to put this scheme into operation. We have arranged the staff and the work, and we shall do everything that lies in our power to get it done as quickly and as efficiently as possible. All I can say is that we hope to get it done by Christmas. We hope that in a good many cases this pay, dating from 1st November, will come in the form of a Christmas box, and that if any are left after that time, they will be very' few. Another hon. Member spoke about the school-leaving age. I have made inquiries about that matter. I understand that the school-leaving age varies; in some districts it is 14 years and in others 15. Whatever the school-leaving age may be in any district, it will apply.
Questions were asked whether the form which we are using could include such questions as how much rent people had to pay, in order to avoid the necessity for investigation officers going to the house. I do not think the adoption of that suggestion would add to the speed required. One of the commonest complaints we hear about forms is that they tend to be too voluminous, complex and non-understandable. We have attempted to make the form in this case quite simple by making the questions as few as possible, and those questions as simple as possible. If we were to add a number of questions such as have been suggested, it would add to the difficulties, and delay rather than expedite the coming into operation of the scheme. I am sorry that my time has now gone. Other questions were asked, but, as I have said, we shall study them in the OFFICIAL REPORT, give them full consideration and do our best with them.
§ Mr. Crowder
Can the Minister give an undertaking that no reduction will be made in a grant until the matter has been fully explained to the wife or widow concerned?
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn", put, and agreed to.