HC Deb 03 August 1944 vol 402 cc1645-7
Mr. Kendall (Grantham)

I welcome this opportunity of raising the question of anomalies in the pay and allowances of our Service men and their dependants. In the short space of time allotted to me and in view of the fact that other hon. Members wish to speak on this subject it is obvious that I cannot deal with all the anomalies that exist. It is my intention, therefore, to confine myself to two categories of anomalies which have direct relationship to each other and which are causing great distress to those concerned. Before raising the anomalies themselves I should like in a few sentences to review some of the points that have led up to my raising the question to-day. As the House knows, I had the privilege some months ago of moving a Motion for an increase in the pay and allowances of our serving men and women, when I was very ably supported by hon. Members on all sides of the House. It is true that I and many other hon. Members felt it necessary to force a Division, owing to the uncompromising attitude of the Secretary of State for War on this subject. And then what happened? The Government agreed to meet in committee a number of hon. Members to discuss the whole question of pay and allowances.

After hearing the views of those of us who served on this Committee the Government, last April, issued a White Paper dealing with this subject. At first glance I felt quite pleased with the contents of the White Paper. It seemed to me that the Government had given reasonable increases in respect of the allowances to wives and children, and so I expressed my cordial approval to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, for whom, apart from this issue, I have very great regard. I gave the Government one of my very rare pats on the back—and very sincerely so—but on closer investigation of the contents of the White Paper I find that serious anomalies do indeed exist. From all these anomalies I shall deal only with those which concern the allowances for the widow with children and the children's allowances. The Government have said that 12s. 6d. a week is the very minimum sum on which a child can be reared, and I think all hon. Members will agree that although 12s. 6d. a week for the first and all subsequent children is a great improvement upon the allowances previously paid, it is nevertheless bare subsistence and nothing else. Therefore, where on earth is the justification for the fact that from the day the child's father is killed, this child, apart from the very real loss of the father, is penalised by a reduction in the allowance from 12s. 6d. to 11s.? What are we doing to allow such a scandalous state of affairs to exist?

It is all very well for those who compiled the White Paper to point out that on the rates obtaining up to April there has been an increase of 1s. 6d. a week in the amount allowed for the first child of "deceased other ranks" and as much as 3s. 6d. for the third and each subsequent child. One cannot surely defend the injustices of other times. Had there been no injustices, had the previous allowances been adequate, the Government would never have increased those allowances to 12s. 6d. for each child. If the Government consider that its 12s. 6d. a week is the minimum necessary for rearing a child whilst the father is alive, there can be no possible legitimate justification for reducing the 12s. 6d. to 11s. the moment the father is dead. I ask the Government to right this grave injustice to-day. The cost will surely be very small in total amount and it will, indeed, be money very well spent. A country must be judged by how it treats the old folk and the young people. The record of our treatment of the old folk is a very sorry one indeed, though I cannot deal with that to-day, as it would be irrelevant to the points I am raising, but as regards the children of our serving men surely we must treat them as well when they are fatherless as we treat them when their fathers are alive. That is the first anomaly that I wish to bring to the notice of the Government to-day.

The second anomaly, on which I shall use similar arguments, concerns the pension for widows with children In the old days, and up to the early part of this year, the widow of a private received 26s. 8d. a week. To-day she gets 32s. 6d. a week. Yet before her husband lost his life she was paid 35s. a week. If it is fair to pay a wife 35s. a week whilst her husband is alive the Government cannot possibly justify a reduction to 32s. 6d. when the husband is dead, when the position of the widow is vastly worse and when she has to shoulder the whole responsibility of the home. The woman is penalised by losing her husband, which is bad enough, which is a big enough shock, and she gets doubly penalised by the reduction of her allowance from 35s. to 32s. 6d. and the allowance to her children is reduced from 12s. 6d. to 11s.

I hope that the Minister of Pensions, who, I believe, is to answer in this Debate, will not use the argument that the widow is entitled to rent adjustment, providing the weekly rent is in excess of 8s. a week, to a maximum supplement of 12s. a week. That is no defence of the reduction of 35s. to 32s. 6d., because when the husband was alive the wife could apply for a war service grant to help to cover additional expenses of this kind. The least that should be done is to ensure that no woman receives less as the widow of a serving man than she receives as the wife of a serving man. Furthermore, in the rural areas there are very few rents in excess of 8s. a week, but the reduction of 2s. 6d. in her own allowance and of 3s. in the children's allowances if she has two children, making 5s. 6d. in all, does, indeed, cause very great hardship to those living in rural areas. This is surely not the time to quibble about a few shillings a week to a fatherless child or to a widow with dependent children. This is not the time to make these dependants more miserable than they are. The widow has lost her husband, the children have lost their father, do not let us take away part of their money as well.

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