§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Major Sir James Edmondson.]
§ Miss Ward (Wallsend)
On 28th January I asked the Minister of Pensions the following Question:Whether, in view of the difficulties experienced by some widows of Service men in reducing their standard of living to fit their new financial position, he will consider inquiring into the possibility of extending the powers of the War Service Grants Committee or establishing some comparable committee to make special grants during the period of transition?My right hon. Friend replied:The Government have already made provision to meet the period of transition to which the hon. Member refers, since a widow continues to receive the allotment and family allowances paid by the Service Department, and any War Service Grant that may be in issue, for a period of 13 weeks after her husband's death. This period has been fixed as representing generally a reasonable time within which the widow can readjust her financial arrangements and I should not feel justified in proposing any additional provision."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th January, 1943; col. 596, Vol. 386.]I am raising this one issue to-day with my right hon. Friend, and I am doing so because I detect in the answer to my Question a repetition of the policy which is always followed by him when a request is put forward for the examination of some particular problem. I have observed during my association with his Department, while listening to his answers to various Questions from time to time in the House, and during my association with other Service Departments, that every time any concession is asked for it is always met with a blank refusal. Public opinion is created, and some considerable time afterwards we are very often in the fortunate position of having some concession granted. I, myself, from time to time, have had the great privilege and pleasure of winning one or two concessions. It seems to me a most extraordinary thing that it is almost only in connection with matters related to Service men and their dependants and widows, that we have to put up this public fight.
I think my right hon. Friend would be well advised to admit occasionally, at any rate, that there is a case for examination. I appreciate that the expenditure of public money must be justified to the whole community, but I am surprised that when an issue such as I have raised 1546 is put forward it is met with a blank negation, and that my right hon. Friend is not even prepared to consider the possibility of an inquiry into the merits of the case. My right hon. Friend says that he fears no challenge; he is always perfectly satisfied that everything in his Department is going well and that everything possible is being done for those whose husbands and sons have sacrificed their lives for the country. He always argues from that premise; but when he tells me that 13 weeks is a reasonable time within which people can adjust their standards of living to meet alterations in their conditions, and that he does not even think it worth while to examine the position, I can only say that he must be very much out of touch with a great number of the cases in which war service grants were payable during the life of the husband.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman does not know that the war service grants machinery was established to try to balance, so far as was humanly possible, the difference between life under Service conditions and the standard of living of members of His Majesty's Forces when in civilian life. If a woman whose husband may have been purchasing his house, for which a war service grant was given in order to meet the interest while the man was alive, finds herself in the unfortunate position of having lost her husband, it may not be possible for her to readjust her whole standard of life in three months to the very meagre pension which is often meted out to her. It might be a saving to the widow and a saving to the community as a whole if she could be assisted finally to purchase the house, subsequently, if necessary, to sell it in order to obtain a smaller house commensurate with her new standard of life. Again, my right hon. Friend must be aware that there are many people whose husbands are serving all over the world who have educational commitments in respect of their children or who have hire-purchase commitments which run much longer than for that period of three months of which he seemed so proud. When he says that the three months is provided in order to allow people to readjust their lives to the new position in which they find themselves, I feel that he must be completely unaware of how a great many people in this country live.
1547 I am not at this juncture asking for a general increase in widows' pensions. I only say that there is a case for examination in order to see whether it would not be satisfactory to establish machinery comparable to the war service grants machinery in order that a widow who finds herself faced with a difficult financial position owing to the loss of her husband may be assisted to tide over that period until she has readjusted her standard of living. I cannot think of anything more human or necessary.
I want to take this argument one step further. My right hon. Friend has a Central Advisory Committee at the Ministry of Pensions. On that committee are representatives of the British Legion who advise him on many matters affecting the lives and interests of Servicemen, their wives and dependants. The British Legion have just circulated to every Member of the House of Commons a document in which they set out what they think to be reasonable in connection with these matters. I observe in this document that they suggest, pending the introduction of a comprehensive scheme, thatimmediate provision should be made for supplementing the pensions of those widows whose standard of living has been considerably reduced because their husbands, who have been taken away from their homes, have lost their lives in the service of the country.If the British Legion urge this in a public document—they have a very fine reputation—to every Member of the House of Commons, I think I should be right in assuming that the matter will probably come to my right hon. Friend through his Central Advisory Committee. I am not going further than that, but surely, when he gives me a blank refusal and is not even prepared to consider the establishment of machinery, he is prejudging the advice that might be given him by his Central Advisory Committee. It may be that his Advisory Committee is purely advisory, since the Government are very fond of setting up advisory committees which have no power, power being in the hands of the Minister who has the right to accept or reject the advice of a committee. The committee is then powerless to do anything further in the matter.
I want to know whether, before my right hon. Friend answered my Question in the House of Commons, he had consulted the Central Advisory Committee or 1548 had discussed the problem with the British Legion on the subject. If he had, were the British Legion prepared to withdraw the suggestion in their document, which has only just been circulated to us? Again, when he answered my Question was he not aware of the views of the Welfare Departments of the Services in these matters? Even in the very small position that I occupy in the House of Commons, I meet people of responsibility in matters of this kind from the Services. Has my right hon. Friend ascertained their views or the views of the welfare officers of the Army, Navy or Air Force? Can he give me a categorical assurance that those people would not support me in the request which I am making?
What I really want to get at is whether my right hon. Friend just answered the Question in the usual way, giving me the usual denial, or whether he had in fact gone into this matter very carefully. I have had many representations lately from very reliable sources about this matter; did my right hon. Friend satisfy himself that the suggestion which I put forward would meet with the approval of welfare people in the Services? Does he think it would be worth while for me to continue my battle in the House of Commons? The terms of reference of the War Service Grants Committee at present are such that we have no power. As soon as a man is killed in the Services the Committee have no power even to advise the Minister on the subject of widows. So far as his dependants are concerned once a man is killed we no longer have any statutory right of any kind or description.
To my mind the reason for the establishment of the War Service Grants machinery was this: The argument put forward, very rightly, by the Service Departments was that if we were asking a man to go fight for his King and country one thing we wanted to do was to reassure him that the country would look after those near and dear to him, that they would undertake a responsibility for his dependants. The Service allowances were admitted by His Majesty's Government—by the very fact that they established the War Service Grants machinery—to be inadequate to meet the very widely varying civilian commitments for which men in the Services were liable when called up. In order that the standard of living of the family might not be seriously reduced to an extent to create 1549 discontent and unhappiness in the mind of the man in the Services the Government established the system of War Service Grants. If we are to reassure the man when he is alive and fighting for his country surely we want to reassure him all the more when he is no longer there to protect his wife and family. If he was alive he might be encouraged to raise his voice through his Member of Parliament but when that man is no longer a member of the family surely we do not want to leave the widow unprotected in regard to all the commitments for which the Government accepted responsibility during the man's lifetime?
I do not know, I cannot argue, how many cases there are which would qualify or which should qualify, for a grant after the husband has been killed but I do know the vast number of grants we pay under the War Service Grants machinery, and simply to come along to the House of Commons and say, "You have no case; we have provided three months and in those three months it is possible for any widow to readjust her position" is not to my mind in keeping with the pledge to those men in the Services that so far as is within our power as a nation we will look after those who are left. I Would not have raised the matter to-day in the House of Commons if my right hon. Friend had said, "I am prepared to consider the position and I shall ask for evidence from those people qualified to give it." Then I should have felt that my job was done, having raised the question. I have sent the answer to the Question to several of my friends dealing with Army welfare and I only wish I could read to the House of Commons some of the replies I have received. All the qualified people who are really dealing with this problem think that either the Minister does not know or those advising him do not know, or that the House of Commons does not care, and it creates a spirit of bitterness which I think is very regrettable. I am not asking to-day for a categorical assurance that this new machine will be established. What I am asking for is an assurance that you will take advice from the British Legion, and from the welfare officers of the Service Departments. I was horrified to find the other day that until quite recently the Service Departments were not represented on the Advisory Committee of your Department.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I do not know why the hon. Lady refers to the Department as "my" Department. If she says "you," she means me, and I am not Minister of Pensions.
§ Miss Ward
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. At any rate, I shall be very much obliged if my right hon. Friend will give an assurance that he will seek advice from those qualified to give it. If he will give that assurance, I shall be satisfied. If he will not, I make this prophecy, that before the war is over my right hon. Friend will have to establish some type of machinery, because its establishment will be demanded. It would be preferable to those of us who are trying to help in the war effort if the Government, instead of always denying any concessions which we ask for, would examine them on their merits, and then come to a decision. I dislike the method of "No, no, no," and then, "Now we will consider it"; and finally being driven to give the concession which was asked for at an earlier stage in the war.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
I can understand the hon. Lady not being pleased about the negative answers she has had from the Minister, but I do not know why she should be disappointed. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) and I have been raising this question for a long time, and we have failed completely to get any satisfaction. Perhaps she thinks that she might have more influence with the Minister, but I do not think she will have any more than we have. As time goes on, my regard for the Minister is gradually dwindling. When he has a concession to make he comes down as though he were Father Christmas, and lectures us about his generosity and how he has been able to hand out largesse in one form or another, but I do not know of any case in which he has given anything to the Services without being compelled by pressure from the House of Commons to go into the matter and make the concession. The Minister of Pensions should be cognisant of the distress which is being caused by this aspect of relief for our women. Because it is his Department, he should be able to press the need for some concession upon the Government, who with their various and manifold preoccupations cannot be expected to give the attention 1551 to this subject that the Minister of Pensions is able to give.
What is the position? Time and again, in the last 18 months at least, we have pointed out that 13 weeks is not adequate for these widows, and the Minister has refused any concession. The War Service Grant, as I understand, was brought into being because it was recognised that the flat rate of Army Service pay would not meet the varying circumstances of the people we were bringing into the Services. The War Service Grant is paid over and above the Service allowance, to meet rent, insurance, purchase of house, debts that have accumulated, and various things of this description. We must remember that this is total war and that we call men to the Colours from every walk of life, but we have to remember also that there are a large number of men who went into the Army who were in that position when the war broke out. They were purchasing their furniture on the hire-purchase system and perhaps, by great endeavour, they had taken out insurances either for their wives or themselves jointly, and probably in a number of cases they were purchasing their houses. I put it to the Minister of Pensions, Is there any reasonable ground for thinking that a woman who has lost her husband—fighting for us—can adjust her circumstances in 13 weeks? It may be that the man and his wife, wanting to live in decent surroundings, probably paid a rent for their house which cut rather heavily into his wages, and that is not an uncommon thing in the country to-day. By adjusting her circumstances, does he mean that she must get out of the house and obtain another house at a cheaper rent? Evidently that is what the Minister of Pensions means. You had better ask the Minister of Health whether he can build houses of a nature that would allow such a widow to go into a house at a cheaper rent. The houses are simply not there. Therefore, she has to continue in that house, even if she wants to get out.
But do we want her to get out? There are probably children, and we want them brought up in decent surroundings, and therefore we do not want her to have to get out. She has given the greatest possession of her life—her husband—for us, and we do not want her to have to get out. We are very anxious for 1552 people to marry, because we are concerned about the birth-rate. Therefore, I am not sure that we should counsel the young people of this country to wait until they have sufficient money with which to purchase furniture before they marry. In many cases the furniture is being bought on the hire-purchase system. That furniture becomes very dear to these people because of the inroads it made week by week into the wages the men were getting when they were at home. When a man has given his life for his country, does the Minister of Pensions really mean that at the end of 13 weeks, if the furniture is only half or proportionately paid for, the widow should surrender the furniture? The request to-day to the Minister of Pensions does not need a negative answer. All that is asked is that there should be an inquiry by people who know the circumstances and who would supply the Minister of Pensions with the knowledge that would allow him to go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
In my opinion the Chancellor of the Exchequer has too often been held up as a bogy man. We recognise that the Minister of Pensions some time ago raised the standard from 16s. to 18s. as the minimum, exclusive of the needs to which I have referred. We recognise that that wa done, but how does that square with the cutting-out of all the things that go to make a War Service Grant payable during the time the husband is living? To-day I am supporting the hon. Member for Walls-end (Miss Ward) because of what has come to my knowledge during the last 18 months to two years. The Minister knows that I have put more than one Question to him about it. These cases will probably increase, and I urge him to keep in line with the attitude he adopts when he comes to the House to make concessions and at least give an affirmative answer to the request made to-day that there should be an examination of this case.
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
May I first of all congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) on her eloquence in presenting her case, and tell her that in spite of her veiled threats I do not regard her opposition to myself as being very serious? It is true that the hon. 1553 Member for Morpeth, (Mr. R. J. Taylor) and the hon. Member who sits beside him have raised this matter in Questions in the House from time to time, and I hope this will be welcome news to the hon. Lady, because this is not a matter which has been just thought of during the last few weeks; it is a matter about which there has been agitation for a long time. I have asked that cases of alleged hardship should be brought to my notice so that I could deal with them. So far I have had only one case brought to my attention, and that has been dealt with quite successfully. I am quite prepared at any time to hear about any case of hardship in connection with War Service Grants, widows' pensions or the pensions of ex-servicemen themselves. I have told the House time and time again that I have not a closed mind on pensions questions. Any Minister who said that the final word has been said on pensions would be a foolish man indeed, and I am not so foolish as to say that myself.
The hon. Lady is entirely mistaken when she alleges that I grant concessions only when great pressure is brought to bear in the House of Commons. She has not been watching this or, at any rate, watching me as carefully as one would be led to believe from the speech she made here to-day. Ever since I took office I have come to the House, without pressure from anybody, to ask for concessions and amendments which have proved to be of great value to ex-Service men and their dependants. I have, as hon. Members are well aware, an Advisory Committee, and I have had meeting after meeting with that Committee in order to consult them on various points. In fact, we have gone through the Royal Warrant with a fine tooth-comb; we have spent a lot of time going through its provisions. I want the hon. Lady to realise that it is not a question of waiting until pressure is brought to bear. In the light of our experience in administering both pensions and War Service Grants, I have come to the House, without any pressure from anybody, and asked for amendments to be made which I thought would be of real benefit to the people concerned. The hon. Lady has, as a Member of the War Service Grants Committee, shown the utmost sympathy with those who have had to apply to the Committee for grants, in addition, of course, to the ordinary 1554 Service allowances that they have received. I want the hon. Lady to believe me when I say that my sympathy is equal to hers in dealing with these cases. She is in a position in the Committee to see the circumstances of these cases and view them from that point of view, but I, on the other hand, have to do something even more than that. I have to look at these cases from the point of view of the circumstances as sent forward by the appellants and I have also to look upon them—
§ 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.]
Sir W. Womerstey
—I have also to look upon them and examine them most carefully from the point of view of real equity and at the same time to bear in mind that I have a duty to the House and to the taxpayers of the country.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I was talking about the hon. Lady's work on the War Service Grants Committee, not about what she would like the Committee to do, but about what they are asked to do according to the terms of reference. Why should the War Service Grants Committee have to deal with widows? As soon as a widow gets a pension, it is a pension, and not a War Service Grant, and it is dealt with by my other Advisory Committee. I assure the hon. Lady that they would feel it is their duty to look after those cases and not the duty of the War Service Grants Committee. Let me go into the short history of War Service Grants. As the hon. Member for Morpeth said, the War Service Grants Committee was brought into being by the Service Departments, at the time of the passing of the Militia Act, to make it reasonably possible for the household to be carried on until the man returned from his Army service. That was the first idea. When the war broke out, the Government developed it to make it apply not merely to those who were called up for Militia service, but also to cover all who joined His Majesty's Forces. It has developed 1555 until it has become of real benefit, as I think the hon. Lady will agree, to the wives and dependants of the men in the Services—I do not think anyone will deny that—in the main, on very generous lines, as it has been amended from time to time.
When we came to the question of what was to happen to the widows, the Service Departments decided that they would continue their full allowances for 13 weeks, and I had to consider what in those circumstances the position of the War Service Grants was. The general idea among Members was that the War Service Grants would finish with the death of the man, because they are granted for a temporary purpose. One must bear that in mind. The War Service Grant is to keep the household going until the man returns, and then the Government's liability ceases." But a pension is on an entirely different basis. It is an annuity for life or for as long as the woman remains a widow, and an annuity is a far different thing from a temporary allowance. Therefore, hon. Members must look at the matter from a practical point of view.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
Under the War Service Grants arrangement the temporary allowance which the right hon. Gentleman mentions is granted for a specific purpose to meet a definite commitment in the family. That commitment may not be fully discharged when the man unfortunately loses his life and the income in the home is reduced to a pension income instead of being one of allowances and War Service Grants.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I quite agree with the hon. Member. What he says is correct. It is for a temporary period and when that emergency ceases the allowance ceases, whether the man is in the Services or not. But it will not go on for all time. A temporary allowance, which is made so that there is a home for the man to return to, is very different from a pension, which is an annuity. Its capital value is worth many times more than this temporary grant. I am as anxious as anyone to see that justice is done, and I have made inquiries. The hon. Lady has mentioned that educational charges must go on after the man is dead. That is true, and there is provision for dealing with it. There is no difficulty about, it. The question of hire-purchase 1556 payments is difficult, but in every case that has been brought to my notice we have been able to get it settled in one way or another. The only real point of difficulty at all is when you come to house purchase. There, I agree, there is difficulty, because a man has entered into an agreement with a building society to purchase a house and, during the time he is serving, the building societies allow the capital repayment to be held over for the period of the war, but they expect the interest and the ground rent. They are not very large items. The largest payment is the repayment of capital The hon. Lady suggested that we should allow a sum to be paid to the widow until she has paid for her house, so that she can sell it and get a smaller place if she desires. I do not think that is really a matter that you could go into with any serious intention of carrying it out, because we should have an outcry from the rest of the community about houses and house purchases. I do not think it is a sound suggestion.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Houses are increasing in capital value month by month. Am I to say to a person, "Because of a certain set of circumstances, the Government will allow you money, so that you can realise all your capital assets," and deny it to other citizens, to a man disabled in industry or a man claiming under workmen's compensation? These things have to be considered. It is not as easy as some Members think. I know this problem through and through. I do not want to discuss the whole of it on this occasion, but I am prepared to consider this once again—it has been considered before—with my Advisory Committee. We are surely representative of all sections. There are representatives of the British Legion, of all political parties in the House and of the War Pensions Committee, and they are the people who understand and know these problems. I am prepared to consider the matter again with them, because it is linked up with a much bigger question.
§ Mr. Woodburn
May I make a suggestion? I take it that the purpose in all our minds is that the family shall not necessarily be over-penalised by the loss of the father, and the matter is a difficult 1557 one if you are going to give someone property which can be realised in the market without any guarantee that the home is to be maintained. Would it be possible for the Government to say to a person who has half purchased a house, "We will take over the house and give you your savings back, or come to some arrangement by which you can be maintained in your home on a basis which is fair and equitable as between the widow and the State"?
Sir W. Wamersley
I thank my hon. Friend for his suggestion and for emphasising the point I was trying to make, that it is not just a question of adjusting what appears to be a difficulty for one party. It is a question of equity as between all sections that one has to deal with in these matters. It is not the easy question that it may appear from the speech of the hon. Lady to be The suggestion of the hon. Gentleman wants a good deal of consideration. Otherwise we may get into a tangle with the whole of the housing legislation as regards house purchase and so on. It is well worth considering, however, and I will give it the fullest consideration. I have made the promise that it will be further considered by my committee.
§ Miss Ward
May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman will put on the Central Advisory Committee representatives of the welfare departments of the Services? I understand that he has asked Lord Nathan. Will he appoint representatives of the other Services, because they can provide cases, as the right hon. Gentleman knows?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I know that they cannot provide me with cases, and that is putting it flat. I have asked them to send me cases, and I have often at their conferences listened to all they have to say. The hon. Lady does not seem to know what my Advisory Committee is. It is set up by this House.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The hon. Lady does not understand. I cannot put people on to that Committee. Lord Nathan was appointed as Parliamentary representative by his own party. I do not nominate people. It is true that as a technical matter of law I say that I have to appoint 1558 so and so, but the nomination comes from the very people who are concerned in the matter. I do not think it is unwise to let the whole world know that Lord Nathan was appointed by his party, and that I accepted the nomination without question. I cannot pick and choose who should be on the Committee, but I should be glad to consider representations from these societies, which have been very helpful to me in cases which have given a little difficulty. I can assure the hon. Lady that she has not brought the evidence she ought to have done to support her case.
§ Miss Ward
The welfare departments of the Service Departments are not societies. They are part of the general set-up of the Services. I am asking my right hon. Friend whether he can extend the constitution of his Central Advisory Committee so as to embody on it representatives of the welfare departments of the Services.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The answer is that I cannot. It would mean altering the whole constitution of the Committee. Lord Nathan is the chief welfare officer for the London area, so that the welfare services have one powerful representative on the Committee. If any of the parties wish to withdraw their members from the Committee and nominate a member who is a welfare officer, I have not the slightest objection, but I cannot tear up the whole fabric of the Committee to please the hon. Lady, and I am not going to do it.
I have listened with great interest to the arguments that have been put forward. I am prepared to consider any cases of hardship that are brought to my notice and do my level best to help them. Cases that have been brought to me, particularly in connection with hire purchase, have been satisfactorily settled, and I am prepared to deal with others and to consult my Advisory Committee on the matter. I can assure the House that I have given this matter great consideration over a long period. It is not just a question of saying, "No, no, no," as the hon. Lady suggests. I have to consider things from all angles, and what may appear to remove an anomaly will perhaps create a dozen other anomalies, and that is why I have to be careful. I am the custodian for this House of this pensions system and pensions payments.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
I think the Minister has been a little more amenable 1559 to reason to-day than we have seen him on previous occasions, because the hon. Lady who raised this matter is quite right in saying that we found him very hard to deal with—
§ Mr. Mathers
In putting arguments of this kind to him on previous occasions., I am grateful for the progress that is being made. It is a progress that I prophesied many months ago would have to be made in this matter, but I am not yet satisfied with the attitude of the Minister. I am sorry to say that, because I am afraid that in the discussions with the Committee his point of view and his attitude will weigh very considerably with them. In replying to my hon. Friends the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) and the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor), the right hon. Gentleman said that he had had one case of this kind put to him. I understood him to mean the case that I had put up with full details.
§ Mr. Mathers
I put that case in debate in October. I had had correspondence with him before, and it has been in correspondence since. He used the expression that that particuar case had been dealt with successfully. I want the House to know what the Minister regards as success in dealing with the case of a widow who is left with heavy commitments after her husband has been killed—in this case he was killed at Tobruk. In a letter which I had from the Minister commenting on this case he said:I have been pleased to help this widow in her difficulties with grants from the King's Fund totalling £11 7s. 6d.Those particular grants were made because of illness in the family. She was a widow left with five children, and there was illness in the home, and that £11 7s. 6d. was in the main, if not entirely, swallowed up by extra expenses in that regard. He went on to say:and I am glad to learn that as the result of representations which were made on the widow's behalf the Earl Haig Fund have granted her £13 for the final settlement of her outstanding account for furniture.1560 After meeting the charges of the doctor for her children this widow was left with an outstanding hire-purchase commitment of £20. The hint was given to me that I should try to get that sum down to a lower figure in order that it might be brought within the reach of what the Minister might be able to do. I was able to get the hire-purchase firm to reduce the amount to £13, and the Earl Haig Fund was prevailed upon by the officers of the Ministry, and I thank them very much indeed for the assistance they gave me, to pay the £13. My point is that that is not the way for a great nation to treat those widows to whom it owes a debt because of the loss of their husbands in this war.
It is a shameful thing that Members of Parliament have to go about canvassing and entrusting themselves to the good nature of people in their constituencies who are entitled to their money in respect of hire-purchase agreements, begging them to make concessions. Indeed, the one argument which I used in getting this considerable reduction was that the widow would not be able to pay. I said, "I am asking you to bring this debt within the reach of the possibility of its being met from charitable funds." My request was not couched in threatening language. I was too wise to take any line of that kind. But it was an indication to that hire-purchase firm that if they did not show considerable generosity by bringing down the amount of the debt they would not get their money at all and that I was not going to be able to find means of meeting the debt.
The gap between the position in which the wife of a serving man is placed because of the allowances and the War Service Grants, and, on the other hand, the pension position, which comes into operation after 13 weeks, has been widened in recent times in respect of the standard per unit in the family being raised from 16s. to 18s. per week, children counting as half a unit. The 18s. is to prevail in respect of every unit in the family, apart altogether from the War Service Grants for such things as my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth mentioned—insurance premiums, hire-purchase payments and things like that—which are normally made from War Service Grants. At the end of 13 weeks, therefore, a widow finds that her position 1561 is seriously worsened. There is a wider gap than previously prevailed.
It is absolutely necessary that something should be done to meet that position. Towards the end of November the Lord President of the Council was dealing with the question of these new allowances, and I raised this point with him in a question at the end of the discussion. He told me that he was not armed with the information and asked whether I would allow him to look at the matter. I not only allowed him to look at it but I gave him very many details as to the particular case to which the Minister has referred. I showed him what I considered to be the inequity of the position which exists at the present time. Up to the present I have not had any more than an acknowledgment from the Lord President of the Council. In that acknowledgment he informed me that he would certainly look into the matter which was troubling me—that is how he put it—and would write to me again as soon as possible. That consideration has gone on from 1st December. The principal point which I rose to make with the right hon. Gentleman now was that in the inquiry which he has promised he should see that the considerations which I put before the Lord President of the Council, and to which naturally he must be a party, are brought before the Committee when the particular matter is considered. I ask him this most earnestly.
I end here. On one occasion I made the suggestion that where there are commitments such as I have described and for which a War Service Grant is given, instead of cutting short that War Service Grant at the end of 13 weeks it should be allowed to go on until the particular commitment was fully discharged. I think that would be a reasonable way in which to meet matters of this kind. In making that suggestion, I must say I did not take into account the question of house purchase. I had more particularly in mind the question of hire purchase of furniture. In making a suggestion of that kind, I think I gave a lead to the Committee of the kind of consideration they should give, and I very earnestly hope that what the Minister has now promised in the way of further inquiry into this matter will result in definite progress being made and the end of this continual pressure that we feel obliged to make upon the Minister because of the attitude that heretofore he has taken 1562 up in connection with this very vexed problem.
§ Sir W. Womersley
By leave of the House, I would like to reply to the hon. Member. He mentioned one case we had to deal with, and he suggested it was a wrongful thing to ask for assistance from such funds as the Earl Haig Fund. I want it to be quite clear that I subscribe to the point of view of the hon. Member that as far as possible we ought not to have to depend on funds that have been subscribed by the public. But, on the other hand, I should deprecate any attempt to wipe those funds out altogether. To start with, there must be, and there will arise from time to time, exceptional cases which no Royal Warrant, no Regulation or law passed by Parliament will touch; that cannot be helped. There are difficulties about what the hon. Member said as regards the question of continuing certain payments. Those are matters which the Advisory Committee will have to consider. There is hire purchase. Take a case where that expires in 26 weeks, we will say, and according to the hon. Member's suggestion, the allowances are continued for another 13 weeks. But some of the commitments of some woman living next door may finish earlier, and she wants to know why the other woman is getting more money. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Oh yes. Administration would be very difficult, but these are matters the Committee will have to consider. I wish to express my deep gratitude to those who have subscribed to the Earl Haig Fund, and those who administer it, and also to those who have subscribed to my King's Fund. I do not regard them as charity in the ordinary sense but as something which has been given by a generous public to be used for ex-Service men and their dependants. I do not think it is charity to go to them with an exceptional case and say, "The Regulations do not cover this. Let us deal with it with your assistance." They are only too glad to give that assistance, and I do not think we are doing anything wrong in appealing to them. The hon. Member did help me to get this particular case settled, but does he think we ought to alter the whole general system because of one case? How many cases has he brought to my notice? One. How many cases has the hon. Lady brought to me? Not one. I say we must not generalise on special cases. That does not 1563 make any difference to the fact that we are to have a thorough inquiry. I am not afraid of inquiry because I know that the members of my Committee are so independent that they will do what they think is right. It was suggested by an hon. Member that the Committee will be influenced by me. You have not much faith in your own representatives on that Committee.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Of course I can. How is a Minister to be responsible to this House if you are to take all responsibility from him?
§ Sir W. Womersley
It has the power to make recommendations. If they are not satisfied, they can come forward and make representations.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Is this a cross-talk act, or is the hon. Lady conforming to the Rules and Regulations of the House?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I do not think it is a right and proper way to deal with this question. I did not interrupt the hon. Lady, and I appeal to hon. Members—
§ It being the hour appointed for the Adjournment of the House, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.