HC Deb 09 December 1942 vol 385 cc1664-72

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Major Sir James Edmondson.]

Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)

I wish to raise a matter which will, perhaps, seem somewhat trivial after the debate which has taken place on the Workmen's Compensation Bill, but I venture to suggest that there is more substance in this matter than would appear. A few days ago, I asked the Secretary of State for War a Question concerning the amount of cash paid to soldiers discharged from the Army on grounds of ill health, and he replied that they had the alternative of having either a suit of clothes provided by Army contractors or a certain amount of cash in lieu. He told me that the amount of cash was £2 15s. 10d. Now, an Army Council Instruction was issued earlier this year which stated what was to be paid in cash in lieu of a suit of civilian clothes, and at that time it amounted to £2 16s. 5d., so that a reduction of 7d. has been made. That reduction may not in itself seem a lot, but we elucidated from the Secretary of State for War the fact that these figures are based on what it costs the Ministry of Supply to make a suit of clothes, plus a cap, tie and collar, for a man who is discharged from the Army. The Secretary of State justified this upward and downward movement by the upward and downward movement in the contract prices which the Ministry of Supply have to pay for the suit of clothes. I doubt whether that is the true explanation, because, until recently, the Navy were paying only 18s. to their men who were discharged from the Service. As a result of representations, the Admiralty increased that sum to £2 15s. 10d. When the Secretary of State for Air was tackled on the subject in the House he told us that the sum of £2 15s. 10d. had been arrived at by agreement between all three Services. Apparently, the Admiralty have their own contractors, the Air Force have theirs, and the Army have theirs. Do I understand that each of them charges £2 15s. 10d. for the suit of civilian clothes and the other accessories which a man gets when he is discharged from the Services? I doubt it. I think that one of the Departments arrived at this figure of £2 15s. 10d. because that happened to be the figure which their contractors told them, and the other two Departments conformed.

The bigger point which I wish to raise with my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State is that in many cases these men, when they are discharged from the Services, get no pension whatever, unless they can substantiate their case on grounds of attributability or aggravation of their disease while they were serving with the Colours. In those circumstances I should have thought that the War Office, and particularly my hon. and learned Friend, would have been desirous of setting up these men in the best possible way and not offering them what amounts to a suit of clothes which, generally speaking, any self-respecting man, soldier or civilian, would not wish to wear. Most of these men do not want the suit of clothes offered to them by the Service Department when they are discharged. Most at them prefer the cash, the sum of £2 15s. 10d. I would like my hon. and learned Friend to give the figures for the different items which a man is supposed to receive when he leaves the Services—the suit of clothes, the cap, the collar and tie—so that I can see for myself where the reduction has been made. I know that it is rather difficult for the War Office or any Service Department to say without consultation with the Treasury, that they will sympathetically consider this case.

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."—[Major Sir James Edmondson.]

Mr. Bellenger

I suggest that £2 15s. 10d. is not sufficient in itself to set a man up with a suit of clothes to make a presentable appearance and get decent employment after he leaves the Service. I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to give a sympathetic answer and to tell the House that, apart from the reasons that he will give as to why the figure has been reduced from £2 16s. 5d., he will discuss with the other Service Departments and the Treasury the possibility of raising it, so that a man leaving the Service on account of ill-health will be able to start afresh in civil life with a decent suit of clothes to his back and in a position in which he can be, at least, on equal terms with his comrades who have not been in the Army but have probably been working in a well-paid war industry. I suggest that the Service man who is discharged on account of ill-health is, in this respect, being as it were thrown on to the streets with very little sympathy and consideration from the nation he has served for varying periods, probably with some effect on his health.

Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

The hon. and learned Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary will no doubt say that it is difficult to increase the cash value given for these suits. If he refuses to increase the cash value, will he see whether it is possible for the people who make clothes for the Army to produce a better suit? These clothes can be made wholesale in large quantities and from the Service point of view this may be the cheaper method. Is there anything to prevent the manufacturers making, not a Savile Row model, but a suit that compares favourably with the Fifty Shilling Tailor suit?

Mr. Granville (Eye)

I would like the Joint Under-Secretary to tell us the kind of suits that the Army produces for discharged soldiers and give us some idea how many accept suits and how many accept cash in lieu of suits. These men may have served for three years or more and when they come back to civil life they may have to go to a factory where there will be considerable wear and tear on their clothes. I should like to know how they stand with regard to coupons and whether they can apply for extra coupons? I feel sure that in appealing to the hon. and learned Gentleman we are not appealing to a stony heart, because his political record is such that I am certain he would not want men who have served the country to go back to civilian occupations unless they can look their best. I hope that we shall not have an answer that the £2 15s. 10d. is a figure that has been agreed and that it cannot be raised. I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to go into the matter carefully and, if necessary, to tackle the Treasury to see whether the figure can be raised to an amount consistent with the kind of clothes that these men should have.

Mr. Martin (Southwark Central)

Some of the men who come out of the Army have been serving for some time and they come back to difficult and distressing home circumstances. Is anything done in those cases to inquire whether they require more than the £2 15s. 10d.? I have had one or two cases where the men have no clothes surviving from their civilian life and they want something more than one suit. Cannot such cases receive extra consideration?

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Arthur Henderson)

The point raised about coupons by the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) is a matter for the Board of Trade and not for the War Office. I would remind the hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Martin) that the cash payment is not intended to set a man up in clothes, but is an alternative to the issue of the clothing which the War Office expect the discharged soldier to accept. I cannot accept some of the phrases used by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) as being anything like an accurate description of the position. He said that soldiers were being discharged with very little sympathy and little assistance and that no self-respecting man would wish to wear the suit of clothes that is offered to him on his discharge. In view of what has been said by my hon. Friends it is only fair that I should place oh record exactly what is done for the soldier on his discharge. He is entitled to a suit of clothes. The clothing provided is of uniform quality and the cloth of the suit is one of the better quality Board of Trade utility ranges. In anticipation of this discussion I had a suit brought into my room at the War Office the other day so that I could see for myself exactly what is offered to the soldier, and if my assurance that it is of very reasonable quality is not sufficient I should be willing to arrange for any of my hon. Friends to go to one of our quartering depots to see for himself one or more of these suits.

Mr. Granville

Is there a choice of sizes?

Mr. Henderson

Yes, the size varies according to the trade classification. There are sizes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and so on—any hon. Member who has bought a ready-made suit in the past will know.

Mr. Dugdale

Will the hon. and learned Member himself wear one of the suits in the House?

Mr. Henderson

I offered my hon. Friend the opportunity of seeing these suits for himself. I do not think it is necessary for me to wear one. I frankly say that the suit I saw, which I understand is quite a typical one, because of the uniform design and quality of these suits, is one that even my hon. Friend, with all his usual elegance, might be by no means unashamed to wear. In addition to the suit, a cap, a collar and a tie are provided, and the soldier is allowed to retain one pair of boots, three shirts and underclothing—in summer two pairs of cellular pants, in winter two woollen vests and two pairs of woollen pants—four pairs of socks and one woollen pullover. Those are the clothes which every soldier is entitled to be in possession of at the time he receives his discharge. If a soldier is discharged on medical grounds between 1st October and 31st March then he may receive in addition a civilian overcoat, but if he is not discharged between those months he does not receive it.

Mr. Granville

The hon. Gentleman says that the question of coupons is not the responsibility of the War Office but of the Board of Trade, but does he not think it only reasonable that in lieu of a coat the soldier might be given the requisite number of coupons with which to purchase an overcoat for himself?

Mr. Henderson

I should be quite willing to look into any suggestion that a discharged soldier is penalised as the result of not being able to get coupons to cover those requirements.

Mr. Granville

If he does not get an overcoat issued to him between October and March.

Mr. Burke (Burnley)

Is it the case that only when they are discharged on medical grounds do they get an overcoat—that they "may" receive it; or do they get it automatically?

Mr. Henderson

I think I am entitled to say that they do receive it if they are discharged on medical grounds.

Mr. Burke

Every one of them?

Mr. Henderson

Yes. A great deal has been said about the insufficiency of this sum of £2 15s. 10d. I think the House should appreciate the fact that this sum is not given in order to "set up" the soldier, but is given to him if he does not choose to receive the clothing which is offered to him. It was suggested that I should give details of the various articles to which I have referred and I will do so. The current allowance is £2 15s. 10d. in lieu of the civilian suit, cap, collar and tie. If he is entitled to an overcoat but prefers a cash payment the sum is £1 17s. 0d. These prices came into operation on 1st August, 1942. I am advised that the approximate retail value of the suit, cap, collar and tie is £3 16s. 0d. and of the overcoat £2 10s. 6d. The totals are made up as follows: suit, wholesale price £2 12s. 6d., retail value £3 11s. 10d.; cap, wholesale price 1s. 11d., retail value 2s. 5d.; collar, wholesale price yd., retail value 8½d.; tie, wholesale price 10d., retail value 1s. 0½d., making the respective totals wholesale £2 15s. 10d., and retail value £3 16s. 0d. Those retail values do not include Purchase Tax, as utility clothes are not subject to the Tax. The reason why the allowance was reduced, as my hon. Friend was informed on another occasion, from £2 16s. 5d. to £2 15s. 10d. was because the Ministry of Supply, as a result of making larger contract than previously, were able to obtain the cap at a lower cost. This meant that the vocabulary rate of 2S. 6d. was reduced to 1s. 11d. That explains the reduction to which my hon. Friend has referred. If the cost of any article falls further, the allowance will be further reduced, and if it rises, the allowance will be increased.

A point with regard to the Army Council Instruction dealing with this matter was raised by my hon. Friend. This allowance is not normally notified in Army Council Instructions, but the Instruction to which he referred, and which has now been cancelled, was specially published because the vocabulary of clothing and necessaries—that is the document in which the rates are normally published—had at that time become out-of-date. Later on that vocabulary was brought up to date and the A.C.I. ceased to be necessary and was cancelled. It may interest the House to know that the vocabulary is the price list of all clothing and accessories stocked by the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. It is used as the basis for all financial transactions in connection with those articles and, of course, is a document which is in the possession of all quartermasters. The price of the clothing is, of course, properly a question for the Ministry of Supply, who buy the clothes. They make their own contracts; the contracts are not made by the War Office, whose responsibility in the matter is limited to prescribing the quantity and quality of the clothing to be provided. The reason for the method of calculating the allowance described is that we provide for the soldier a suit and other accessories, of what is regarded by us as being reasonable quality.

In our view, if a soldier, of his own free will, prefers to take a cash allowance instead of the clothes that are available, there should not be imposed a greater charge upon public funds. Therefore, I suggest that, assuming that the suit of clothes and other accessories are of reasonable quality, it is for the soldier to accept them. If, for his own purposes, he prefers to take a cash allowance in lieu thereof, there is no reason why public funds should be called upon to bear a greater cost than if the soldier accepted the clothes that are made available for him. Any other course would have the effect therefore of encouraging the soldier in every case to say, "I will not take the clothes that are provided. I prefer to take this larger allowance." That would completely defeat the object of the scheme which is now in operation, and it is obviously a course which, as at present advised, the War Office could not possibly accept.

Mr. Granville

The hon. and learned Gentleman has given a very detailed reply. That refers to soldiers who are discharged and who leave the Army now; may I ask whether this is to be the general attitude of the War Office in regard to all men upon ultimate demobilisation?

Mr. Henderson

I am quite sure that my hon. Friend will not expect me to answer that question now, but I would say this: that the policy of the War Office would depend entirely on whether there was an adequate supply of clothing available when the period of demobilisation commenced. After the last war I understand that there were not sufficient suits for issue to the troops who were being demobilised, and they were given allow- ances equal to the retail value of the clothes they would have to buy, and not the wholesale value which has relation to the supplies of clothes available for issue to them. I do not know whether that meets my hon. Friend's point.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)

Would my hon. and learned Friend make it clear whether, when a soldier elects to take cash instead of clothes, the coupons go along with that cash allowance? There can be no possible reason for giving cash, unless coupons to buy the clothes accompany it?

Mr. Henderson

I would prefer to have notice of that question, but I think I am right in saying that all that is handed to the discharged soldier by the Army authorities is the cash payment. He is then in the same position as I was in myself when I left the Army, and I imagine other Members have been in the same position. He has to make his application as a citizen to the Board of Trade for the coupons he requires.

Mr. Granville

Would my hon. and learned Friend take up this question with the Board of Trade and see what can be done about it?

Mr. Henderson

I have already assured the hon. Member that I will look into the point he raised, without committing myself or the Department as to what attitude may be taken.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.